I am not a fatalist like Diderot’s eponymous character, Jacques the Fatalist. Jacques believed that everything that has happened and will happen in our life is “written up there.” Such a life is a very pathetic one; it denies us the freedom to choose our actions as well as the responsibility for our actions.
Yet Jacques is not entirely wrong. There are many things written in our genes. In the words of psychologist Elizabeth Hurlock, “heredity places limits beyond which individuals cannot go.” There are quite many traits handed down to us by our parents genetically. In my days of youth (and the concomitant foolishness), I defined life as “a conspiracy of chromosomes.” There were many things about me which I didn’t like, which I wished to change, but which apparently remained beyond my control. Of course, quite many things were indeed beyond my control. For example, if I wished to be a singer when I actually could not distinguish sa from pa (musical notes), my genes would militate against my wish. To the extent certain things remained beyond my genes, the boundaries of my life and my dreams were indeed predestined. Not only the genes, but the environment and circumstances too circumscribe our life and our dreams.
It took me years to realise that there were quite many things which were indeed within my control and that it was my right and my duty to utilise that power which I have over myself. As the philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, would say, “Becoming human is a project, and our task is not so much to discover who we are as to create ourselves” (as paraphrased by Gerald Corey to whom belong the emphases too).
We have to create ourselves every day, every moment. Life is a series of contingencies, with no guarantees beyond the certainty of death. We may transmute each contingency into the actuality that we want it to be by making the appropriate choices. That’s just what the Existentialists said. “We are condemned to be free,” as Jean-Paul Sartre and others of the school said. To choose is to become committed. This choice and the responsibility that it entails are the other side of freedom. Sartre argued that at every moment, by our actions, we are choosing who we are being. Seen this way, our life is never fixed or predetermined. We choose our life, we create it every moment.
We go on creating ourselves till the last breath provided we exercise our right to choose our actions rather than accept the teachings of others (religion, traditions, etc) blindly.
One day I chose to choose. I have never turned back from then. And I have never ceased to be happy from then, in spite of my genes.