Nature has the first move

Nature has the first move

Many times I will walk into a coffee shop and ask the barista what zer favorite drink is. They are usually not used to such a question and it sometimes takes them a second to catch with my query. Upon hearing the answer (whatever it is) I will order a cup. I love all sorts of coffee and coffee drinks and discovering a new one is always fun.

I love Panda Express but for years I would order the same thing every time… orange chicken. That's it. Nothing else. No, I'm not interested in trying a sample of “______” thank you very much. Just hand over the orange chicken and we can all get along just fine. And whenever I pay for my orange chicken I am handed a fortune cookie. For as long as I can remember I have had the same ritual on eating fortune cookies.

1. Open the cookie and eat half of it immediately.

2. Read the fortune.

3. Choose to eat (or not) the other half of the cookie.

This is a ritual for me. I am not looking for anything from the words of the mass produced fortune, printed in heavily biased messages (when was the last time you got a fortune that read “your day will suck so hard you're going to call your momma”). But this ritual also affords me a chance to reflect on something that is important for my own resilience.

There is a dangerous, pervasive, belief that is found out there that should be up rooted wherever possible. You may have heard of it:

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • Good things happen to good people
  • The world is a just place

and so on. It is called Belief in a Just World, or BJW, and it robs people of their resilience. How? It is victim-blaming on a massive stage. You got cancer because you deserved it! While we may be able to point to some of a person's habits as contributing to cancer (such as smoking a lot, working in a chemical plant, or sitting in a cubicle every day for years), victim-blaming carries with it an added dimension of moral judgment. You deserve your fate because you are a bad person. Add this to the self-serving bias, where we view other people as deserving their ill fortune, or lucky for their good fortune, and the exact reverse for our own selves.

With only the self-serving bias to contend with we can view the negative events that happen to ourselves as bad luck and take action to overcome it. It is rotten luck the meteorite smashed into my car, better find another ride to work! However, with the belief in BJW, or 'everything happens for a reason', there is an added emotional component to the already existing stress. If you were to feel unworthy, guilty, blameworthy, shamed, at the mercy of forces larger than you, and so on…. what would this do to your motivation levels? Would you feel a sense of agency? of autonomy? Would you be compelled to move forward? Or rather, would you sit alone feeling isolated?

When I eat half of my fortune cookie first before reading the paper fortune at all, I am reminding myself that in the card game of life the Universe deals first. I may be handed a good hand, a bad hand, or whatever. The cards used in games of great players are the same cards used by lousy players. Its how they play the game and yet even so, good things happen to shitty people and shitty things happen to good people, and all manner of things in between. So I eat that first half and I reflect that the Universe acts first, that I have autonomy, and I choose, or not, to act. I may eat the other half, I may dunk it in my coffee, I may throw it away, I may give it to a squirrel.

There is a long debate in philosophy and religion about the autonomy of human beings and the existence, or illusion, of free will. I believe they are all correct. Wait… what? I follow what Spinoza wrote about free will and, without making this longer I will just say that to the extent that we do not exercise our rational mind, looking to be aware of the motives behind our actions, we remain not free agents, but puppets of chance at the mercy of all the actions around us. Over the past couple of years I've worked with many people who are not at all free, autonomous beings, but instead are slaves to passion and circumstance. At any moment of the day they can easily, and energetically, point a finger at someone or something that has brought about their latest rage, depression, anxiety, sadness, frustration, etc…

Yes, the Universe deals first. You had no choice in being born in the circumstances you started from, don't congratulate or berate yourself for it, something I wish rich, white men would remember. Some of them are too busy making arguments that they are the most deserving people because they are privileged. It is a strange, circular argument, that is employed often. Even still, if you would be a free being, you must act as a free being. To borrow from Forest Gump, “*a free mind is as a free mind does*”.

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