Free will and success

Qaisar Sultan

If we ask a person with a moderate to reasonably well-defined success: Have you failed or succeeded in your life? There will be few, except for the pessimists, who would say that they failed in this life. We don’t compare and we should not worry about someone who has done better than us.  Then how do we measure our own success? It is relative to the circumstances, the environment and the attitude towards life. It is difficult to suggest that a person has failed in his life. We live with what is sometimes given to us. A person born in ghetto may compare the life within that small world to judge his life.  The modern idea of success is defined by the free will that is endowed to us by the creator. The concept of free will is very debatable. We have choices to make in our lives. We can establish our goals and aims. We can work hard, establish goals, develop passion, focus on our goals and be persistent on what we go out to do as we start our lives right from a young age.   An acorn may be sowed in a suitable soil to grow; we can water it- What happens when a blowing wind destroys the tree or someone cuts it down. But there is no doubt that we are supposed to be vigilant about what is needed to nurture the tree; it may grow as a strong oak tree. The fact is that very few acorns germinate as tree. That is what happens to most of us. Few of us end up doing what we wished in our lives; as they say that man proposes and God disposes. Does that mean that man should not decide or work on something that he desires? Does free will is not prearranged for man not to change his own life and his surroundings. A possible answer is in Machiavelli thought about what he called Fortuna (Fortune). According to him, fortune is a nasty, vicious and unbending facet of human afflictions. On the other hand and at the same time, the fortune is also accommodating blessing of providence. The rain is essential to life; but at the same time torrential rain may destroy human lives and their efforts to grow food. What Machiavelli suggested that we can’t stop rain or flood; but what we can do is to build levies to stop the flooding and save lives and crops. We have to accept the destiny and at the same time use the free will that propels us to defend ourselves to some extent or sometimes completely from the miseries and disasters.

At times, we wonder what could have happened to our lives if we were born in a different time and different place. Think about people who were matured for careers at the time of war or depression. In time like those conditions, the job and business opportunities were limited.  We do not have free will in the matters of where we were born and to what kind of family we were born in. If the father was an uneducated laborer or peasant, the chances of getting good education are limited- We are not talking about the exceptions. And it is not only about formal education, the looks and wealth; it also entails the morals and values given to us by the family we were born in and the environment that we lived in. We find cultural norms and values in different cultures. I visited a small town in UP, India. I met a poor Muslim driving a rickshaw; that man had a great sense of humor and the civility that impressed me. He spoke with clarity and read a poem to me. I visited Rawalpindi and took the horse carriage ride. The man was a nice older man; but used very foul language. The cultures of two different places made those two men behaving very differently. They were both born in different places and had different parents. The fact remains that we do not pick our parents; we do not pick the place of our birth. The Kenyans marathon runners from Ngong have won whole bunch of titles in long distance running. Ngong is a small town in Nigeria with the surrounding of small mountains and rift valley. For some reason, that country has produced great athletes like Terget, Kerui, Korir, Mutai and lot more. What are the chances that a third world country would produce so many marathon runners?  The young athletes are inspired by the idea of running long distance. The last example is about Pakistan. Sialkot has produced some greatest Urdu poets, Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.  There was something about that soil that could produce good thinkers and poets. My point is that the birth place of a person has lot to do what they are inspired to do. In ghettos, where crimes and drug dealings are very common, young boys idealize the drug dealers and bad people. There is this free will that we talk about that could lead young people to better life. But the fact remains that the environment and the opportunities compel young people to do what they see around them.

The only problem in accepting the destiny as the sole arbitrator of our future life does produce this dilemma about leaving up to God things that we can do and achieve. When someone believes that it is solely up to the destiny to make us successful, we lose the passion and drive to find our goals. It is not the destiny that someone smokes and gets sick; was that up to our destiny to let us smoke? Someone may say that it is our destiny to do the wrong. The fortune may be the maid of those who can aggressively and willfully tame it. Usually, the religious societies confusedly bring the idea of accepting the fate as the ultimate decision of God to put us in a certain condition. I believe that God does not want us to be miserable and destitute. He gives us this internal free will to act freely and do what our hearts desire; and a keep the other part of puzzle, the external will, in His Own hand. Then I ask myself: what chances people were allowed to those who were born in the desert of Somalia or Chad? What are the possibilities of a child to live a happy life born in that condition? Where is his free will and what chances he has to succeed?

qasiarsultan@live.com

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