Destiny is a river; free will, a paddle

Do you believe in destiny? Do you believe we are puppets controlled by the hands of fate? Is what happens to us preordained? Are we helpless victims hurled about by arbitrary and chaotic circumstances?

Do I believe in preordination? Sure, I do! If I thrust my arm into a boiling kettle of oil, it is “preordained” that I will get badly burned. On the other hand, if I don’t stick my hand in fire, it’s “preordained” I won’t get burned. So, it’s clear that my actions help shape my destiny. Those who choose to ignore the laws of nature, such as the dangers of fire, will suffer the consequences.

But what about disasters such as flash floods, invading armies, job loss because of downsizing, or outbreaks of disease? Aren’t these proof that we have no control over our lives, that we are merely pawns in the hands of fate? Not at all. Destiny is not an isolated event, such as a flash flood, but a direction of movement. Life is a path that leads to our destination. The nature of our destination (success or failure, happiness or misery) depends on which forks in the road we choose to follow.

Destiny, then, is a river, and our free will is a paddle. We can choose the direction in which we move by paddling, even if it means paddling upstream. Because of free will, we can also refuse to paddle. But if we do so, we will be swept away by the tide of events. For this reason, Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, “I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.” You see, our actions are seeds that germinate into our destiny.

Our destiny is not determined by the hardships we meet, but by our reactions or responses to them. I may react to a flash flood by growing despondent because of my losses, or I may respond to the flood by starting a basement cleaning business in which I clean up in more ways than one!

There’s no point in bemoaning our fate when disaster strikes. If it’s unavoidable, we have to accept it, for we won’t be ready to move on until we acquiesce. But, as Deng Ming-Dao points out, “Acceptance does not mean fatalism. It does not mean capitulation to some slaughtering predestination. [It means] acting within the framework of circumstance.”

Getting back to my original question, do you believe you are in charge of your own life or are you a victim of circumstances? The question is purely rhetorical because I already know the answer. Of course, you believe you are in charge of your own fate. How do I know? Because we all take pride in and accept credit for our accomplishments. Whenever we are recognized, we do not reject the certificate, award, plaque, or trophy and say, “Oh, no, I cannot accept this because I’m unworthy.” On the contrary, we graciously accept it and thank those who have recognized us. This is proof that we recognize we have control over our lives.

Yet, when we screw up and make a serious mistake, what do we do? Do we say, “Sorry, I wasn’t as careful as I should have been?” No, we are struck by amnesia and conveniently forget our power. Instead of accepting responsibility, we search for scapegoats to blame. “Sorry, boss, I’m late because ______ (my alarm clock didn’t ring, the bus was late, the snowstorm or traffic accident delayed me — you can fill in the blanks). If we choose to cast blame, we are taking a detour on a path that can lead to a glorious destination. Far better to accept responsibility, learn from our mistakes, and move on. Like William Jennings Bryan, we need to recognize that, “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice: It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

By now, you probably agree that we create our own fate. But how specifically do we do so? Here’s the premise: WE CREATE AND ATTRACT WHATEVER WE FOCUS ON. Let’s look at a couple of examples. Both Karen and Sue were laid off and recently found separate jobs, but with identical working conditions.

Karen is unhappy. True, she’s paid more per hour than the average worker, but she’s paid on an hourly basis. That means she’s not paid for her lunch hour and she has no sick days. Simply put: no work, no pay. So while others enjoy national holidays, she has to put up with a smaller pay cheque because of the holidays. Karen has no company benefits and no security. As she focuses on the benefits she lacks, she grows resentful and anxious. Because she’s unhappy, she’s not very productive. She exudes a dark cloud of negativity and finds herself constantly complaining. Would you say her conduct, attitude, and actions will lead to a promotion? Isn’t it more likely that she will be laid off again? Can you see how what she focuses on, lack and negativity, leads to more of the same?

What about Sue? She wishes she had benefits, but she has an attitude of gratitude. She’s thankful for having a job. Better to make some money than none. She also counts her blessings: she’s gaining more experience, contributing to society, making new friends, pleased about the convenient company location, and likes her supervisor. Things may not be perfect, but Sue is cheerful, productive, and contributes to the overall morale of the company. What do you think? Are her actions and attitude attracting opportunity? Is she likely to be promoted? If not, her additional experience will be her ticket to a better job in another company.

Sue was aware of the benefits she lacked, but chose to focus on the blessings she had. That’s how she remained positive. Awareness of the undesirable conditions of one’s job is not negative. But focusing on them is. It is important to know what we don’t like, for that is the only way to understand what we want. Once we know what we want (in this case, a job with full benefits), while remaining cheerful, we focus on it. When focused, we can set goals, look for, and find opportunities. In fact, our positive attitude will attract and create the reality we want. Yes, our destiny is in our hands, so let’s start paddling!