“…there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!”
Oscar Wilde

“Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions.”
Dallin H. Oaks

“When faced with two equally tough choices, most people choose the third choice: to not choose.”
Jarod Kintz, This Book Title is Invisible

by Hélène Montpetit

These days, many people disseminate ideas or impart wisdom through sharing Internet memes. Two of these caught my attention recently as I was mulling over making changes in critical areas of my life. The first read: “Life isn’t happening to you; life is responding to you.” The second: “If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.” Because both addressed possible causes for what I felt was procrastination on my part, I decided to take a closer look at their implications.

Meme no. 1 : Life doesn’t happen, it responds
This statement puts whatever happens to you squarely in your lap. It is a favorite both with people who like to credit their positive thinking for the success they have found and with those who blame themselves completely for life not turning out as they had hoped. There is only one problem with it: its premise is largely false.

Take global warming, for example. It is a result of post-industrial revolution excesses in the Western hemisphere, yet it causes natural disasters everywhere on the planet. According to the International Panel on Climate Change:

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”
(A summary of the report is available here.)

Mother Nature does not discriminate. Millions of people who had and still have nothing to do with the technologies responsible for climate change will still suffer its consequences.

Does life respond to you? Of course! As the Jim Croce song had it: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape; You don’t spit into the wind; You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger; And you don’t mess around with Jim.” Do any of those things and you are partly responsible for the results. I say partly because you did not make the wind windy, nor do you control how Superman or the Lone Ranger will choose to respond to your actions. The same can be said about several circumstances that have great bearing on a person’s life. Being born in poverty or in a location where everyone of your race or colour is patently at a disadvantage is hardly life “responding” to you. The destruction of the global economy by greedy high ranking capitalists and weak government representatives cannot be laid at your door (unless you are one of the aforementioned high ranking capitalists or weak government representatives).

People and systems are interconnected and certain aspects of our personal reality simply are not created through our own thoughts, feelings or actions.

Meme no. 2: If it doesn’t open, it isn’t your door
A great cop-out line for those who wish to give up easily (or never try at all), this implies Fate has a larger hand in matters than it actually does. For one thing, doors rarely open without some kind of intervention: the turning of a knob, the undoing of a latch or, at the very least, our standing before the active field of an electronic eye. Even though we are quite accustomed to doors, we sometimes require “push (or pull) to open” instructions.

In other words, not getting what you want on the first try doesn’t mean you can’t eventually succeed. For every person who purports that your true destiny will unfold if you stick only to the doors that are already ajar or that open easily, there are probably four happier ones who will tell you persistence is the key to creating the life you want.

Critical thinking should never be set aside when contemplating meme wisdom, particularly when it comes to life and the changes one might want to make to it. Some things are thrown at us that we did not bring upon ourselves and with which we must contend, but we do have a measure of choice as well as a responsibility to exercise that choice. The clearer we are on that, the better, because once childhood is behind us, we are entirely responsible for our individual stories.

Think of it as an art form: you are the artist creating a life out of the materials at hand.

Mhmm and where does that leave us?
We can all recognize when, through deliberate choice, we diligently work toward a specific end. But what about the other things in play? How do unconscious behaviours factor in? Is there such a thing as an unavoidable Fate? What if the odds are massively stacked against any meaningful attainment of the things our culture promises will make us happy? What if we pursue them only to find doing so makes us miserable? What do we do about our free agency? How do we choose with these unanswered questions? In short, how does one set one’s compass to navigate the waters of life?

With my curiosity piqued and necessity pressing, I asked around and heard back from three women. They discussed how change manifested in their lives and whether they felt they had planned, earned or stumbled upon their current circumstances, particularly concerning the things they appreciated most. In part two of this exploration, I will report on what they generously shared.

Until then, may you recognize when life is happening and when it is responding, and may you find a few difficult doors at which to try your hand.