Friday, February 04, 2011

What you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be

Be strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.

Be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success.

Never substitute words for actions.

Don't seek the path of comfort, but face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge.

Learn to stand up in the storm, but have compassion for those who fall.

Master yourself before you seek to master others.

Have a heart that is clean, and a goal that is high.

Learn to laugh, but never forget how to weep.

Reach into the future, but never neglect the past.

Be serious, but never take yourself too seriously.

Be modest, so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength.

From General Douglas MacArthur's Sylvanus Thayer Award acceptance address. Credit goes to American Rhetoric for the speech. The full text of the speech is here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Fate vs. Free Will

The eternal question. Are we in control of our own destinies and futures, or are there deterministic forces that are out of our control and render free will an illusion?

You could argue that we're in control of our lives and thus our destinies. If anything, we make our own Fate. Everything that we do and all the conscious decisions we make directly affect us, with consequences that sometimes cannot be foreseen. You could take the view that nothing in life happens for a reason. That whatever happens, happens. More often than we'd like, things happen to us that simply have no shred of meaning, no matter how much we search. Such random things puzzle us and make us question the existence of Fate. Would Fate will such things upon us? I think not.

It would be naive, however, to think that we are in control of absolutely everything. Of course, there are some things in life that we just cannot control, no matter how much we wish we could. Like whether you'll do well on an exam or test even though you've studied your arse off and did the best you could. Or whether the object of your affections feels the same way about you. Or whether you'll win a scholarship or competition you've spent months preparing for. Those things are out of your hands. Not in Fate's hands, but in the hands of the other party/parties: the examiner; or the one you admire; or the judging panel. The voice of Fate isn't nagging at their minds, telling them what to do, feel or decide. It's all up to them, and nobody else. And if things don't turn out the way you hope they do, well then what can you do? That's that. No use thinking it's Fate, because there were two parties involved; and Fate was not one of them.

But at the same time, it would be much easier to base everything that we do or that happens to us, good or bad, as the will of Fate. It's like making an excuse for things; just because Fate willed them, we push the blame onto Fate and refuse to take responsibility for them. It serves as a strange sort of refuge from the harsh realities of the world; like "I'll leave it up to Fate" or "Fate had it that I did this/that this happened to me and I'll have to accept it."

Imagine a guy's about to suicide. He jumps off a building, but miraculously survives the fall, albeit with serious injuries. It's not unreasonable for him to think that perhaps Fate willed for him to live, not for him to end his life so abruptly. He then concludes that he's been given a second chance at life, and proceeds to then make the most of it while he still can.

Of course, it would be easy in that case to believe that Fate really does exist. But then again, what if, just by chance, he happened to not fatally injure any vital organs as he landed, thus ensuring his survival?

We can choose to believe either one of those theories; that Fate really did give him a second chance, or he just so happened to not sustain fatal injuries. But will we ever really know? I don't think so.

I guess all we can do is stick to whatever comforts us in the relevant situation. Whether it is accepting the will of Fate or acknowledging other real-world factors that are beyond our control, we seek refuge in trying to find a reason for what happens in our lives. Depending on different circumstances, we tend to believe in either one, but sooner or later, we realise that we can never really be sure of which one exists and which doesn't.

Shall we leave it up to Fate or Free Will to decide that?