meant to be?

As I push and shove (or, rather, swing and duck) my way through my dissertation, I’ve been thinking lately about the topic I once promised myself I’d write my dissertation on: the rhetoric of fate in American culture. You see, there was a time in my life about six or seven years ago that I had a major philosophical shift in my thinking. Previously, I had been a faithful believer in fate and predestination. Everything was, of course, predestined—where I’d go to college, who I’d meet, what career I’d have, whom I’d marry, if I’d marry, etc. After some pretty heated discussions with several people I respect and admire, I toyed with the idea that maybe everything wasn’t based on fate, or wasn’t predestined.

To make a long story short (or, to spare you a personal story more interesting to me than to others, I’m sure), I’ll cut to the chase. In the process of shifting my thinking, I asked anyone and everyone what they believed about fate. Did they, too, believe that everything was predestined? What did people mean by fate? Predestination? Most profound to me, and pertinent to Harlot, is the contradiction I found over and over in what people believed about fate, and in what they said about it. Most didn’t really believe in fate, but I could easily catch them speaking as if they did.

For example, my mother firmly stated that she didn’t believe our lives were predestined—that we had independent thought and choice in what we did. She did, however, routinely utter such comforting statements as, “Don’t worry, Kelly, it wasn’t meant to be,” or “If it’s meant to be, it’ll work out.” My best friend confirmed that she, also, did not believe that our lives were predestined. However, she would often ask the question, “Where is Mr. Right?” “I guess I’m not meant to find him yet?”

What I’m still curious about is why many of us (not to mention popular culture) often speak as if things are meant to or not meant to happen if we don’t really believe it. Do we really believe, on some level, that things will work out? Do we need to believe that? Is it all just rhetoric we’ve heard and repeat out of habit?

Obviously, I, at least, wasn’t predestined to write that dissertation. Long way from there…

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3 thoughts on “meant to be?

  1. I’m presonally a big fan of the “Things happen for a reason” mentality… another fate-ful declaration that doesn’t necessarily indicate a belief in fate. These expressions do serve a rhetorical purpose, as Kelly points out — this one happens to work really well on audiences (including the self) who are either in the process of facing a challenging situation OR have already made it through to the other side, where they’ve discovered a surpising benefit to a “bad” event or situation. In the first case, the sentiment can reassure people that there must, in fact, be some reason (like fate) for the seemingly arbitrary stress and pain of life; in the second, it can reassure people that they have, in fact, been made stronger by that stress and pain. Of course, I might be letting my own personal perspective skew this interpretation — do people use this expression in happier circumstances too?

  2. I’ve always believed in fate. Of course, when explaining this to a stranger, I always excuse myself for being ethereal. A part of me hates apologizing for something that I know they’d say too–the “things happen for a reason” thing. I guess I feel that I have to defend my more so-called “illogical” side.

  3. The beautiful thing about “things happen for a reason” is that it can work for the ethereal (my new favorite word for you, Kaitlin!) and the more, well, earthy. On the one hand: Sure, everything happens for a reason (fate, nature, god) that we cannot predict or even probably understand. When something happens, we *assume* a reason (which reason cannot know?). On the other hand: We can always make up a reason after the fact — a sort of fate-in-hindsight. Once something happens, we *create* a reason (fate, nature, god).

    Do our experiences have pre-existing meaning, or do we make meaning from our experiences? How might these fundamental (and fundamentally opposed?) philosophies come into play when talking about rhetoric?

    Oh, yeah — ironically, Kaitlin is the more *creative* of the two of us! 🙂

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