When you look back five years and think of how you arrived to your present condition, you probably nod with understanding as you recall the work, effort, and bit of luck that brought you here. The road to now may even have some logic to it. But if you asked yourself five years ago to predict this moment, or a man from a time machine gave you a vision of how you would be in five years, you’d be shocked, disappointed, or frightened. You wouldn’t have been able to imagine moving from point A to point B, though once you’ve made it to point B, it becomes rather sensible how that journey took place.
Within your genetics, influences, character, and temperament, there is only a small list of outcomes that are possible for you. There may be fits and starts to get to that outcome but the destiny will eventually be realized, sort of like how a toddler falling down while learning to walk doesn’t create doubt in anyone that it will one day be a great walker. This outcome can only be altered by your influences, which you are exposed to by chance. Each influence you stumble across tweaks your destiny.
Early in youth you are like a boat in the ocean, whose movement is easily affected by the wind and wake. As your influences gain in focus and consistency and your character becomes more stable, you become like a car, far more stable than the boat. You have great variability on which lane to pick and what position to take within that lane, but you’re still sensitive to weather and other drivers on the road.
Once you believe you’ve found truth or wisdom or happiness, and are sure of your path, you become like a train. Your destiny is now ordained, and you will only be affected by the greatest of calamities such as a hurricane or earthquake. Your speed can vary but it alters the arrival of your destination by only a few minutes.
The only degree of free will that you have is the influences you select—the friend you spend time with, the book you read, and the movie you watch. These help determine the mode of your transport and its direction and speed. Most humans fail to graduate from steering a boat, remaining a slave to the environment, whipped around in all manner of storms. But the train is not so easily affected. The heaviest of storms can impede its progress but to a small degree. Its tracks guarantee it will arrive to the destination.
I just stated that you have free will in choosing your influences, but do you really? How did you choose the last book you read? You had many choices, I’m sure, but it’s the previous books you read and whether you enjoyed them or not, whether their message agreed with your nature or not, that ended up determining the next book you picked. Therefore you did not have complete free will. In fact, I believe you have no free will at all in picking your influences. They were randomly thrust upon you at the right time at a crucial point in your development as a human being. Show me the last ten books you read and a selection of ones you are thinking of buying now, and I will guess with significant accuracy which one you read next. It would be obvious to me, just like how the route from point A to point B is obvious when you look back from point B.
You are a vessel, a bridge to the accomplishment or execution of something, whether it’s performing labor, disseminating a message, or transmitting ideas. You had no choice in this matter. Reading this article right now was not an exercise in free will. You have been influenced throughout your life to be primed to read it at this point in time when your mind would put up zero resistance to its reading. You may not agree with its contents, but the choice to read it was not yours. It was a long journey that was shaped by the chance of your influences against your genetics, character, and temperament.
When I decided to visit Ukraine, it was because a germ that started from my birth was at a certain bloom and decided that Ukraine would best serve its interests. When I study Polish, it’s because the season has changed and the climate has now become suited for a task which my mind believes is more important. When I decide to write a book, that decision was influenced by everything that has happened to me in my 33 years of life. It is actually impossible for me not to write the book when the idea pops into my mind. I am but a vessel to this task.
We have complete control over our day-to-day activities. Tomorrow you have a choice in how to fill your day, as you can decide on a whim to call in sick or skip class, but a day is but a drop in a man’s life. The driver inside you does not care for a day because it operates in years. It is steering you. The influences that you have picked in the past, or rather the influences that found you at the right time in your development, determine your future. Point B is unknown, as even the most intelligent man cannot predict what lies ahead, but when you get there it will be so obvious and fitting that you may even trick yourself into thinking that you actually predicted it—no, that you consciously controlled it every step of the way! But you have no control. The randomness of being influenced, which would closely resemble to what scientists call nurture, may trick you into thinking you had some choice along the way.
Sometimes I open a book that I think will be important, and a thought enters my head. That thought goes something like this: “This book is going to take me down a path which I know not the end, but which the end is written, and at that end I may remember this book and how it opened my eyes to a new idea that was very agreeable to me, or a new behavior which I was eager to try, and it will put me one step closer to an end that is a total mystery.” And I nod my head and start reading, understanding the power of influence and how it shapes my destiny.
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