September 22, 2017

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Trying to send our life in the best possible direction

Cynthia DewesRecently, I heard a pundit say that the direction our lives take often depends upon 10 events, seven personal decisions and five people. The more I thought about that, the more accurate an insight it seemed to be.

Determining events in my life included World War II and following wars and even the Great Depression. That event certainly affected my family, but I was not aware of it at the time. Other events are graduations, moving to new locations, trips abroad and work opportunities, but it’s hard to assign their significance within a total of 10.

For one thing, events often happen totally outside of our control, as in world politics or natural disasters. We remember things like ISIS and the ravishing hurricanes and earthquakes of late. And some events are the result of our own or others’ decisions. Thus, the phrase “unintended consequences” comes to mind. Whatever the case, some events loom large in the sum of a lifetime.

Decisions also dominate what happens to us. If we think about someone like Hitler, we can only wonder at the decisions he made. Or we tend to approve the decisions of Mahatma Gandhi or St. Teresa of Calcutta because they were positive responses to the human condition rather than corrupters of it. We approve or disapprove because of the apparent motives behind the decisions.

Religious people base their decisions upon their moral beliefs and practices. Their aim is to please God or Allah or their Supreme Authority, and to seek affirmation through prayer or meditation, performing good works or trying to do good in general. Humanists and others who are not overtly religious also try to do the right thing, based on their belief that we all share a human bond with responsibilities as well as benefits.

Sometimes, doing the right thing conflicts with our personal comfort or desires. Rather than confront a spouse and repair our relationship, we may decide to commit adultery instead. Or we cheat a bit in order to pay the kids’ college fees. Such decisions affect many others besides the spouses or the IRS, including family, friends, and maybe even work. So we realize that our decisions are crucial to more people than just ourselves.

The people who’ve helped determine the direction of our lives often include our parents, teachers and other authority figures. We have mentors, spouses and even outside figures who do the same. Hitler certainly affected the course of my generation, if only from afar. My parents and my spouse have shaped me, as well as certain friends and colleagues at work.

Most of this influence was for the good, largely because we tend to choose others for the good they may do us, or the positive effect they have on us. In the case of parents, it’s more like luck. We can’t choose our parents, but we sure learn from them regardless. And that’s why parenting is so much more than physical reproduction.

If we witness a happy marriage it helps, but we can learn how to be married even from bad examples. We can also learn what it meant to love and affirm your kids so that they go out into the world prepared to succeed.

So I thank God for free will. Free will helps us to make good decisions and choose wholesome opportunities and people. We can’t always determine events or the actions of others, but we sure can pray to choose the correct responses.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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