Some ten years ago, Nathan and I were sitting on the floor of our college dorm in St. Louis, waxing poetic about nothing and everything at 3 AM. On this particular night, which I remember vividly, we were focused on the topic of fate, destiny, and free will. Over the years, I kept thinking about what I described and my thoughts have changed much on the subject. Personally, fate, destiny, and free will all fit together as pieces to the greater whole of life. So how do they fit together?
The idea is really quite simple, despite debating all night about it. Fate is generally the idea of things happening as preordained by some higher power. Destiny is that specific or necessary events will happen – set points in life like having three kids. An apt analogy would be a book. Fate is the existence of that book while destiny is the chapters of that book. Free will, then, is the unwritten or forgotten details in between the chapters. This seems contradictory, because is free will really free will if it leads to the same conclusions regardless? The argument is that this is the same as having the parameters we face everyday. If I don’t have the ability to invent the next generation of renewable energy sources, then I don’t. No amount of free will can bring me that outcome. Likewise, if I cannot dunk a basketball, then no matter how much training I choose do, I still won’t be able to jump high enough to do so. Therefore, free will is the ability to choose and make decisions within the given parameters. Fate and destiny are those parameters.
In some sense, fate and destiny is akin to socio-economic background and personal characteristics. The place you are born, the culture that you are born into, the economic condition that you had growing up, and the way you act all have influences on outcomes later on in life. Some are able to rise above it because of choices they made. Others choose to remain where they started. Of course, chance and luck has some part in this as well. Some people want to rise above but are unable to and they can’t explain it. This unexplained lot in life was traditionally attributed to fate and destiny. In this framework, fate and destiny encompass luck as well. It does not mean hard work and merit has no place. As some have suggested, luck can be created. I believe that to a large extent, certain choices and effort in certain aspects can generate luck. For example, your destiny might be living abroad but where you live and what you do may be the luck from certain choices.
If free will can create luck and fill in the blanks between chapters, then can destiny be changed – can the chapter titles be changed? When I first discussed this with Nathan, my answer was yes. Your choices can alter the trajectory of your destiny, though you are still bound by certain parameters. As you progress through life, those parameters can slowly shift. So, destiny can be changed but not to a drastic degree immediately. Small changes can accumulate into a significant difference in future outcomes. Today, I am not sure if I will give the same answer. This is the question I am still pondering and this was the question that we spent all night debating. The framework I believe in does provide leeway for overcoming destiny but it can also be interpreted to be immutable. In the end, I still lean towards destiny being open to change but your fate is yours.
The book is cast in stone, the chapters are alterable, and the details are up to you.