Friday, September 27, 2013

On Fate, Shame, and Destiny

O had his powerful destiny ordained me some inferior angel, I had stood then happy; no unbounded hope had raised ambition. (Paradise Lost, 4.58-61)

Throughout my own life, I have fought what I consider delusions of grandeur. I don't know how Milton's sense of destiny impacted his daily life, but more often than not, daydreaming about my own foreordination has lead to foolish presumption, a sense of entitlement, and a lack of discipline. Here's why: destiny is often a euphemism for fate: it assumes outcomes may be inevitable; it assumes greatness or ignominy can overtake us no matter how quickly or earnestly we may (or may not) seek it. This concept is played out in countless narratives, from Oedipus Rex to Kung Fu Panda.

Granted, there is much we cannot control beyond our own thoughts and attitudes. We are "things to act," but that doesn't ensure we will never be acted upon by God, man, or circumstance. And we often defend illusions of control to our own detriment. But according to our latter-day faith, fulfillment of a prophecy requires conscious, active, and even strenuous work. If we are, in fact, drenched in destiny, we must be meekly so. Anyway...

Another outcome of this sense of destiny may be the impulse to sweep failures and foibles under the rug.

If you're anything like me, you may have glossed over some personal embarrassments now and then in your own private journal, assuming that one day it might end up published in full (posthumously, of course) or used as source material by a biographer. But I believe that, whether or not we ever rise to such notoriety that our privet words and deeds earn public interest, this self-deification is a disservice to ourselves and our circle of influence. Not only is this self-redemption ultimately futile, it obscures the true and uneven path we all, great and small, walk in life. And it may allow us to rest on our laurels.

Since humility is one grand key to industry and greatness, and because public shame often inspires humility, why not post an embarrassing moment/picture/video from your own life in the comments below. In case you missed it, I broke the ice on this subject in my last post. Or, even better, post any humanizing anecdotes from Milton's youth, especially those that my have spurred hard work through embarrassment.


  1. I love the Kung Fu Panda reference! Okay I have an embarrassing moment. This one time, my friend told me that he kissed someone. I acted like a squealing teenage girl and asked for all the details, since it was his first kiss and we talked for a while. Then the next day, he told me that he had been joking about the whole thing and that the girl that he claimed he "kissed" knew about our conversation. I guess it was embarrassing for me because it made me realize that I could be a little gullible. And I realized how stupid I probably looked. And that I needed better friends. Anyway that's my story!

  2. To make a long story short, in Ukraine, I told a 16-year old girl that in America, if you didn't get a scholarship, you had to pay for your own circumcision. Yeah, so education and circumcision are pretty close in Russian... :)