Saturday, July 19, 2008

When Destiny Comes Calling...

Destiny is usually defined as the predetermined course of events or as the force that determines those events. Unsurprisingly, in fantasy worlds where deities are powerful, visible forces and divination magic is common, such a predetermined fate can often be known ahead of time; prophecy and fate are common enough tools for writers of any age, from ancient Greek drama (Oedipus the King) to the more contemporary Shaman King manga series.

However, destiny exists in the real world as well, although the extent of that would be hotly debated. Whether a force exists that is determining the events of the future often becomes a debate over religious beliefs in today’s world, and raises vast numbers of additional questions that are far too numerous to address here. That said, though, there hardly needs to be a divine force to create a predetermined future, and one does not need to be a mage to read the course of the future. The question then becomes, how does one react when in a situation where the future is already known?

Admittedly, when I say such things, I refer almost exclusively to the immediate future. As a mild example, I offer my experiences playing Halo with one of my friends this past Thursday. I’d like to believe that I’m reasonably skilled at most types of video games, and I have played Halo before and proven to be at least mildly proficient at it. But I don’t own an Xbox 360, and I can’t practice with Halo 3 as much as my friend can.

Predictably, then, he is several times better than I am and absolutely merciless. You can probably imagine how much I welcomed the one-on-one duels that he was setting up. Of course, my destiny (for the next few minutes, at least) was pretty much set then. I knew that there was no way that I would be winning the upcoming matches. Hardly the world-spanning divinations of powerful magicians, but it was a predetermined course of events that I was able to read.

What mattered then were the details. After all, it’s rare for divination, especially of the future, to reveal every single detail. Certainly, even knowing I was royally doomed didn’t tell me how that would happen, or what the final score would be. So, really, I had my own choice to make in the matter. The choice before me was the same that many others have faced: the wisdom or worth of fighting a battle that was already lost before the actual battle began.

How should we react when we can tell what course the future will take? What can we do when we believe that we know what will happen next? There are those who would argue that fighting a lost battle is a waste of effort and power that could be better used for more uncertain pursuits. I can see the wisdom in avoiding a fight that cannot be won, to be sure. Especially when the resources at stake are the lives of soldiers in an army as opposed to the numbers on a computer screen that I typically work with.

Wars, however, are not won by numbers. Victory in battle is not always measured by the units lost and units killed, and battles are not always those of war. In the Naruto manga, the titular character was confronted with one of his most difficult challenges yet during a promotional exam, a powerful enemy that repeatedly insisted on the inevitability of destiny. Among other things, he told Naruto, “…the moment I was selected as your opponent, your fate was sealed as well.” And certainly, it didn’t look like Naruto could win.

Had Naruto taken his words as truth and surrendered, though… As it turned out, his opponent’s reading of the future was incorrect. It is in challenging what appears to be impossible that we discover what truly is impossible and what is merely difficult, and by accepting the most likely outcome of a course of action, we can find the courage to try for a different one.

As I have expressed in previous articles, I’m a fairly mediocre runner. Better than many, yes, but also hardly the best of the athletes that I know. And due to the nature of my preferred sports, cross-country and track, I have never really been able to count myself as the best in any one event. There are far too many more skilled athletes on the course or the track for me to simply win.

But then, why is it that I keep running? Essentially, I’m doomed to at least a form of defeat every time I run, just as I’m doomed to defeat whenever I’m pitted against my friend in Halo 3. However, I learned long ago not to think of my destiny in such terms. The joy I take from challenging myself and all of the runners near me is reward enough to explain my preference for the sport, and the challenge I find in trying to even kill my friend is a major part of why I didn’t flinch from fighting him one-on-one.

What is the appropriate response when destiny comes calling? How should we react to a fate that may be inescapable? We cannot really read the future with any great accuracy, certainty, or detail; such a precognitive ability rarely appears even in fantasy. In the end, then, all that we can do is try. Even if there’s no realistic hope of me actually winning the race outright. Even if it’s impossible for me to best my friend in a direct contest of skill.

I know that I’ll learn and improve despite my predetermined fate, and maybe eventually I’ll learn enough to change that fate. Merely because I’m destined to lose the next race I run in doesn’t mean that that fate will always be so. In the end, intent and the will to carry it out change the future. If I work to improve, and challenge myself in every race I run, I may lose most of them, but there will be one where I don’t. That is a destiny that cannot be found by refusing to challenge fate.

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