Fate or Free Will?

How much of our lives are dictated by free will versus fate? I bet that everyone’s answer is different, depending on how much value one places on the cognitive versus the mystical. An evidence-based person will lean strongly toward the free will side, whereas a highly spiritual person may choose fate. I imagine that the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

After all, we don’t have complete control over our lives. Where we are born, into which family, and with what genetic make-up have a huge impact on who we are and our life’s trajectory. Yet we also know that major life choices can be agonizingly difficult since those choices may have repercussions for years to come.

Finding that balance in the fate/free will life perspective is tough too. Erring too far on the fate side may make someone complacent about their life, whereas erring too far on the free will side may make someone feel overly responsible and need to control.

What matters, in my opinion, is how we handle the events of our lives, regardless whether they emanate from fate or choice. For example, the best way to grieve after the loss of a loved one is to find or create meaning in the loss. The loss can become a path to growth or wisdom, or a motivation to do good deeds. In his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner makes the case that when we focus on why, we’re asking the wrong question. Instead, he asks us to focus on now what?   What good will come out of a bad situation?

It’s not just loss that is hard. Even positive change can be difficult to adjust to and even traumatic. You’ve heard the stories of how winning the lottery is just as likely to ruin one’s life as it is to create happiness and wellbeing. Those winnings can either be used to create meaning and purpose and to elevate others, or it can be used to create infighting, division, resentment and fear.

Regardless of whether an event is subjectively good or bad, emanated from fate or choice, in the end we’re left with deciding what next? Do we learn, grow, improve, or take action? Or do we become complacent, fight with each other, blame someone else, or fall into depression? Do we learn to make better choices or learn to let go and be more accepting of what we cannot control?

Undoubtedly in my lifetime, I have tended to err excessively on the side of free will. My challenge continues to be able to lean into accepting and embracing the parts of my life that are driven by fate and beyond my control.   I must believe that, just like every other part of my journey to become my best self, the future can be even more spectacular than I can imagine, so I should not try to control it.

Perhaps those of you who err on fate must learn to be more proactive and involved in determining your destiny. You have more power than you realize. Use it to grow kindness and wisdom in yourself and your world.

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