The Fates

Modern day humans spend a lot of time searching for answers to the universal questions: Why does life happen the way it happens?  And Why do we behave the way we behave?  We examine our past, revisit the way our parents raised us, explore our culture, and focus on critical events that we believe impact us individually and communally. More recently, we have added our genetic makeup to our quest to understand ourselves.  We believe that every experience, good or bad, makes a permanent imprint on our lives. Whether we feel victimized or blessed, we generally can’t resist asking ourselves the nagging question ‘why?’   Why did this happen to me?  Why do I feel the way I feel?  Why did I escape injuries when others did not?  Entire fields of study are devoted to answering these questions: social studies, psychiatry, psychology, genetics, etc. And, if we are honest, we are mostly seeking answers to questions that concern the negative things in our lives.  Most people don’t seek therapy to discover why they are so lucky. We also bank on the idea that if we can understand why, we can somehow fix it or perhaps simply cope with it better.

I believe the ‘why’ questions have always been asked; it is the answers that have differed dramatically throughout history.  I remember a history teacher who pointed out that during the middle ages a person accused of witchcraft would be hauled away.  Today, the person who accuses someone of witchcraft would be hauled away. It’s all about context.  Prior to psychoanalysis, the majority of explanations were based on religion. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘lot in life;’ casting a lot basically means choosing someone at random (the old short stick solution).  But in the bible, the person chosen by lot was thought to reflect the will of God.  Interpretation of events (or addressing the ‘why’ question) bounced between divine grace and the wrath of God. You were either blessed or cursed. The bible tells the story of the sailors casting lots to ‘choose’ who was responsible for bringing the wrath of God upon their ship (Jonah 1:7).  In this sense, your lot was your fate and God, not you, determined your fate. The unlucky sailor who got the short stick was likely thrown overboard.

The ancient Greeks had a very different approach to the ‘why’ questions. They believed that three goddesses determined a man’s fate.  They were in fact called The Fates.  Klotho spun the thread of a man’s life. Lakhesis measured the thread to determined the length and destiny of that life, and Atropos determined how a man would die when the proper time came.   A man’s fate was assigned by ‘eternal laws;’ laws of the universe that were thought to be immutable (never changing).  The first law was the Law of Mentalism which states there exists a single universal consciousness that is plainly revealed.  The second law was the Law of Correspondence; that there is harmony, agreement and correspondence between the physical, mental and spiritual realms in the world. The third law was the Law of Vibration which states that everything moves, everything vibrates, only the frequencies vary; your thoughts and emotions are merely vibrations.

While The Fates did not directly interfere with a man’s life, they also did not allow other gods to interfere with or obstruct a man’s fate.  Even so, fate was somewhat pliable.  It was believed that a man could alter his own fate through choices he made; the old adage that you cannot necessarily control what happens but you can control how you respond to what happens (a very modern idea). Therefore, The Fates determined consequences for a man’s actions or responses. Interestingly, The Fates were portrayed as ugly old women who were stern and unforgiving but always faithful to the eternal laws.  My guess is that The Fates were more often credited with bad luck than they were credited with good luck and thus were created in the image of a mean old aunt who was out to get you.

Because we believe that the answers to our questions lie in the modern day explanations of environment, experiences, and genetics, we devote serious time and energy attempting to understand ourselves. We often draw explanations that involve our families, our negative and positive experiences, our trauma, our parents trauma (epigenetics). We think in terms of fair versus unfair.  We are prone to delve into the ‘what if….’ fantasies that are so alluring.  What if I had been given more opportunities?  What if my parents had not gotten divorced?  What if I had married someone else?  What if my mother had been more affectionate?  What if I had been a better parent?

Unlike persons who believe their fate is predetermined by three unattractive goddesses and unlike persons who believe that their fate represents messages from God, modern day ‘answers’  can send us to a place of blame, guilt, self pity, regret, and even self-loathing. We can allow our thoughts to wallow in ‘what if’ and ‘why me’ and ‘should’ and ‘should not,’ etc. It’s a heavy load to bear. But probably the most destructive feature of our modern day ‘answers’ is that it can prevent us from embracing acceptance. So maybe the ancient Greeks understood something that we don’t.  If a person believes his or her life’s course is predetermined, s/he can more easily accept what happens or doesn’t happen. And if s/he believe that his or her life is but a small vibration in tune with the harmony of life, s/he might be less inclined to judge his life in terms of what s/he did or did not do or get or experience.  S/he would be less responsible for the lives around them because they would recognize that their parents and children and neighbors also had lives that were essentially predetermined. They might focus more on how they respond to events than how they caused events. They might embrace self-acceptance and acceptance of others. They might even view themselves as a tiny vibration in the physical, mental and spiritual realms of the world. They might even believe in The Fates.

When is disappointment not disappointment?

I recently visited my son at the inpatient facility where he currently resides. He told me that he broke the house rules. His stay will be prolonged, some privileges lost. He minimized the incident, made excuses and seemed dismissive of the whole thing.  He reminded me of a typical 16 year old except that he is 31.  I came away with a mixture of familiar feelings: annoyed, somewhat exasperated but more than anything, disappointed.  Why can’t he just obey the rules?   Why does he repeat this type of behavior over and over again?  If he doesn’t care, why should I care?

On the drive home, I kept asking myself, why can’t he behave like an adult?  But then I wondered if I had behaved like an adult?  How had I responded when he shared what had happened? No doubt I stiffened up. Instead of listening, I asked questions that I already knew the answers to or questions that have no answer like “Why?”  I purposely conveyed my disappointment. The truth is that he didn’t have to tell me about the incident. I have little doubt that he regretted telling me.

So what does it mean to be disappointed?  I mean, what is the actual  definition of ‘disappointment?’  Thank God for the internet (or thank Al Gore for the internet…never mind). Here was the best definition I found: “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.”  I can’t help but notice that the definition doesn’t clarify who the hopes or expectations are for; are they for self or are they for someone other than self?  That’s important. Imposing your disappointment on someone else is a heavy burden for the recipient.  After all, it’s tough enough when we are disappointed in ourselves. A  friend once told me that there was nothing she dreaded more than hearing her parents say they were disappointed in her. I get it.

It seems to me that disappointment should be reserved for one’s self or for things external to oneself.  It is fine to be sad that I have not met my personal expectations or to be displeased that I didn’t accomplish something I set out to do.  It’s OK to be disappointed that my team lost or that a party was cancelled or that it rained at the picnic. But to be disappointed that someone else isn’t meeting my hopes or expectations is another matter. What I did was show my displeasure that he wasn’t fulfilling my expectations. And I honestly don’t think that is the intent of the word disappointment.

Instead of asking myself what I want from him, I could spend time reflecting on what I want from myself. I could benefit from focusing on my own behavior rather than the behavior of others. I would like to have more robust boundaries that reflect who I am rather than reject who someone else is. I don’t like myself when I get on my high horse.  Words like ‘should’  begin to creep into my vocabulary.  I lose my sense of humor to say nothing of my sense of self.  I want to avoid personalizing everything that goes on around me. And more than anything, I don’t wish to use disappointment as a way to manipulate others.

Because disappointment that someone else isn’t doing what I want them to do, isn’t disappointment, it’s manipulation sprinkled with a pinch of shame. I’m disappointed that I didn’t meet my own expectations!  Julia