Over the years, I've encountered quite a few people who imagine themselves to be masters (a word which we'll deploy as non-gendered in this instance) of their fate. I reckon we're all more or less ego-centric, and ego-centricism can lead to a belief in the ability to control fate; also, different modes of society encourage us to make the most of ourselves, to persist, to "perfect" ourselves, to achieve, to oppose slings and arrows of outrageous--or perhaps just annoying--fortune with our wills. (My mother's favorite phrase, arguably, was "mind over matter.")
I've almost always withdrawn from the notion that one can control one's own fate, and I react especially bad to people who actually advise other people to go one-on-one with fate. Will these advisors be around should fate have an especially good day and some pieces need picking up? A long time ago, a fellow who perceived himself as a rugged individualist encouraged me to "run to my fate and crush it in my arms." I recoiled from the advice then, and a recall it now in a poem:
“People who believe that they are strong-willed and masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception.”
--James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
Somebody once advised me to run to my fate
and crush it in my arms. He may have been confused
about what fate is, who’s the crusher, and who’s
the crushee. Anyway, he confused me, so I
crushed him in my arms. I told him, “I’m practicing.”
He found my behavior unpleasant, the bear-hug
inappropriate. As fate had it, we didn’t become friends.
Even if I were to run to my fate, odds are I’d take off
in the wrong direction. Anyway, you just can’t
go around pretending it’s possible to crush fate
with your arms or even with rented fate-crushing
equipment. Some days, I have trouble making it
to work on time. I’m in no position to fantasize
about crushing fate or to give fate-related advice.
If you’re in a better situation, then I say this:
more fate-crushing power to you. If you’ve located
your fate and are running toward it now, I give you
no advice, but I wish you good luck, Godspeed,
and above all, strong arms.
Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom