In thrall to fortune
19. Between destiny and chance
“We cannot truly plan, because we do not understand the future – but this is not necessarily bad news. We could plan while bearing in mind such limitations. It just takes guts.”
This quote is taken from one of Nassim N. Taleb’s quartet of brilliant books, including Fooled by Randomness. Taleb, a foremost expert on the role and risks of chance in life, maintains that nothing is certain, that too much knowledge, wrongly applied, is as dangerous as too little. A very astute review of quite a different but equally esteemed book written by a Jewish pastor after the death of his child in the late 1970s confirms that there are no pat answers for even those of faith, that it is just the way of the world for bad things to sometimes happen for no useful reasons. Harold Kusher concludes, in,When Bad Things Happen to Good People, that the only thing to be done to redeem the good is to heal from and transform the pain into improvements.
While negative emotions serve survival as warnings, positive ones function from a basis of security and reach out in reciprocity and creativity to undo hurts. Renowned authority on depression, Martin Seligman adds that ready gratitude, appreciation, forgiveness and trust build contentment, and that people obtain greatest satisfaction from using their signature strengths. Sustaining wholesome pleasures got from absorption in creative activities, comparable to a zen-like timeless state, was famously termed ‘flow’ by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi and encouraged wherever possible. Nevertheless, ignoring the past, which lives on in memories and mental formations, or not considering the future, which requires executive functioning to envision and plan ahead, makes the present, without sensible balance, a fool’s paradise. The fatalistic outlook often associated with the ancient idea of karma, or individual wrongdoing, is something Buddha taught was only one of five powerful forces impacting on current conditions.
The regimens of education may dragoon graduates into aggressive corner-cutting careers, loading the brunt on the life course with chronic costly health conditions. Broken work patterns, the desire and need to be mobile, privacy-seeking and other extended choices, however, contend amongst modern pressures to disrupt the functioning of a relaxed caring social environment. What’s more, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV keeps changing criteria for traumatic events in favour of medicalisation of experiences. A post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis no longer requires direct exposure to what’s generally defined as an extreme stressor to qualify. Not only will anything found personally very distressing do, but exposure can be merely second-hand, such as hearing about the event from a friend or seeing it on television, absurdly lumping carpet stains with gang torture.
When education and play is self-chosen and self-directed from an alert non-stressed state of mind that is open to non-literal imaginative thought, values mean more than ends. Rational economic reinforcers don’t work well any more, and rules emanate from the players’ own minds; rules that, through self-restraint and self-determination, are being turned into desires. Creative types tend to retain these capacities into adulthood, or learn them, and earn a living that way. They’re likely to demote winning for the sake of it by all-inclusively negotiating conflict and problems for the fun of keeping the game going, like the infinite games James Carse advocates in his mystical much-referenced book, Finite And Infinite Games. Playing the game of life as an infinite rather than a finite endeavour also conveys the gist of a lighter, less tightly-grasping disposition. A philosophy of accepting that there will be rocky times, preparing for whatever comes by daily centring and grounding, and making the most of what’s going well, is worth considering.