Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fate or Free Will?

I’ve never been able to reconcile fate and free will. In my mind, it’s got to be one or the other. If we have the ability to make choices that impact our future, then I don’t see how there can be any one destiny. And if there is one inevitable end to our journey, then the choices we make don’t really matter in terms of changing our lives. They might color our days but in the long run, we’re just along for the ride.

So, which do you believe in?

I, personally, am a big believer in choice. I don’t think that we’re on one track for our whole lives, unable to change the direction we’re rocketing into. I think we make our own decisions and, in doing so, determine where we’re going to end up. And this final place can change daily, even hourly, with every choice we make. This is my philosophy for real life, but it’s also something I pay a lot of attention to in stories.

Characters need free will. They need the agency to effect change in the world they inhabit. Otherwise, the story loses interest fast.

If a character is told that her destiny is one specific thing, no ifs, ands or buts, and she just says, “Okay,” and goes about doing it, there’s no story. At most there are a few sentences.

She was told it was her fate to be killed by a rabid ostrich. She was surprised – because she’d always gotten along so well with ostriches – but accepted the inevitable. When the animal charged all those years later, the last sound she was heard to make was a resigned sigh.

Too bad for her, but nothing all that compelling there.

Soul mates destined to find each other regardless of the years or lifetimes that pass? There’s a romance to this, absolutely. There’s something comforting about the thought of such a guarantee. But having read or watched a number of stories in this vein, I’m always left with the question of whether or not these people truly want to be together or if their love is the result of someone else’s doing. I’m much more interested in the stories of two people who choose to be together even though they have no guarantee of a happy ending. There’s a courage there that’s much more interesting than the complacency of soul mates.

I like stories with prophesies or predictions of the future. But I like them because I enjoy watching the characters find a way to change their paths. I like seeing them prove fate wrong.

I like tales where the character who has been heralded as a savior of the people shows up. And wants no part of it. Or is happy to lead the people if necessary, but does so in an unexpected way, not just by falling in line.

I like seeing characters make choices. And I like seeing that those choices have definite consequences, both good and bad. They’re not just words thrown out into a never changing void.

So, I vote for free will.

But what about you? Where do you fall on the Fate/Free Will spectrum?


  1. This is a good one. What if we have no destiny, until we make a decision. Though decisions lead us down paths towards an inevitable destiny.

    1. It's enough to make your head hurt, isn't it?

  2. I'm 100% with you! I can't quite stomach the idea of fate. I too think it's all about the choices.

  3. I do not believe in fate, or destiny, or God's plan.

    I think that people came up with those ideas to take the edge off of two things.

    (1) We make decisions and we have to live with the consequences

    (2) Sometimes you can do all the right things and bad stuff still happens. And that's just life.

    I believe that we can learn from everything that happens to us, but I do not believe there is a grand plan for us.