It is a funny thing that when I read articles (as opposed to novels, etc.), I often get caught up in something that is not the actual subject of what I’m reading. If I’m reading about fish fries, I will probably spend the entirety of the piece pondering something other than fish fries – usually some assumption on which the author has based what s/he has to say about fish fries, something that s/he probably hasn’t even noticed that s/he wrote because that kind of thinking comes so naturally to so many. I talk to my argument students about assumptions (or warrants, as they are called by the Toulmin model of argument), and how we must always be working out that muscle with which we can detect the assumptions underlying our own beliefs/assertions/judgments, and of course the assumptions underlying the arguments of others (which is much more fun, of course). But the more I talk about it, the more I realize what a tall order it is, how extraordinary we must be in order to catch ourselves. Still, I think it’s a necessary exercise.
Related to this are ideas about what is or is not “meant to be,” that “everything happens for a reason” and we only need to figure out what that reason is. I think you know what I mean. I struggled with these concepts for a long time. I hated the ideas embodied by straight-forward fatalism, but the somehow more romantic concepts of two people being meant for each other – or a certain destiny awaiting me if only I could find the key that would unlock my brilliant future that was just sitting there waiting for me, static, like a destination – appealed to me. If a relationship didn’t work out, then that person must not be “the one,” or we were defying the orders of the universe and would suffer accordingly until we came to our senses.
Here and there, we encounter things, events, people, situations that we just feel in our bones are right for us. I think when this happens that they really are right (and just as an aside, those things have usually come in by accident rather than by design). Where we seem to go wrong, though, is in our desire to direct how they play themselves out in our lives. Rather than staying open and fluid and receptive, we try to take over – we wouldn’t want some crazy accident to take this thing or person out of our lives, after all, or even alter our vision of them or ourselves. If, for example, it’s a person who has come into our lives, the degree to which we attempt to control the relationship (whether we want it to be a friendship, a love relationship, a fling, or anything) is the degree to which we attempt to remove that person from his/her path – and more importantly, it is the degree to which we attempt to remove ourselves from our own path. But there goes that pesky idea again, as if there is a pre-determined path which we must all follow. Let me try to explain what I mean. At any given moment, something has come into our lives that is right. It’s as if we’re walking in the dark, and a patch of ground lights up that is right. If we fail to take that step, we are resisting; if we step in a different direction, we are resisting. But none of this is really to say that there is a step that is wrong, or a direction that is wrong. But for sure, if we’re resisting, we will struggle and life will be more difficult. I had an experience several months ago that provided me with a useful metaphor for what I’m talking about.