It is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities, Harry Potter.
Ultimately, it is our choices and actions that will shape our destiny.
Whatever comes our way… whatever battle is raging inside us, we always have a choice. My friend Harry taught me that. He chose to be the best of himself. It’s the choices that make us what we are… and we can always choose to do what’s right, Spider-Man.
It is a quote from a film, isn’t it? However, real people face this dilemma just as much.
Take this person, W. Mitchell. He had the misfortune of having two accidents that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He was burned beyond recognition, his face was very disfigured and he lost all his fingers. However, he overcame adversity and turned his life around. He gathered his courage and determination and he became a mayor, an entrepreneur, and a millionaire.
His fight is as pragmatic as it is inspiring: “Before my accident, there were ten thousand things I could do and now there are only one thousand. I could spend the rest of my life dwelling on the things I had lost, but instead, I choose to focus on the thousand left.”
He is one of the best examples of this: It is not what happens to you that matters, but what you do about it.
To put it another way, we always have a choice, we can control our actions and these choices and actions can make a difference. The opposite is determinism, which denies us the freedom to act, change ourselves, and modify the status quo or our own existence. Consider different types of determinism:
Genetic determinism regards biology as the key determinant of human behaviour, more specifically, our genes along with environmental conditions. Differences between people and groups are inherited and innate, and society is, therefore, a mirror of biology.
Geographical determinism is the view that human behaviour is determined by where you live, the climate, available resources, and the physical environment.
Skinner’s behavioural determinism states that we are not free because our behaviour has been conditioned through education.
Social determinism claims that society (parents, culture, friends, race or gender) and psychological factors are the main constructors of personality and behaviour.
Theological determinism (predestination) asserts that God is an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient being. He, and only He, knows what the future holds, and people can’t influence God in the matter of who is saved and who is not. In other words, the Almighty knows our future and He knows who will be saved and who will be condemned to eternal fire.
These theories all share, basically, the same principle: the human being is not completely free. Our actions, thoughts, and behaviors are determined by education or the lack of it (behavioural determinism), our genes (genetic determinism), God or destiny (theological determinism), the physical environment (Geographical determinism), sociocultural, economic and technological factors, etc.
They all state, one way or another, that human beings can do nothing to change their destiny.
For instance, we can argue that families in third world countries lack access to adequate sanitation, safe drinking water, good roads, health services, basic education, and therefore, they are less likely to succeed academically and professionally.
It is also true that our genes determine our skin, eyes and hair color, our height, the probability of developing certain diseases, and many will argue that they will affect or dictate our abilities, preferences, and emotions.
I accept that these factors (genetics, education, physical environment, society, etc.) play a very important role in our lives.
However, I do think that they are not the ultimate cause of our behaviour, we can always choose. As Sastre put it: “Every human being is totally free and completely responsible for every choice that he makes.”
There are no excuses, no determinism - man is free! We are responsible for our actions.
Victor Frankl recounts his experience in the Nazi concentration camps in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and how even in the most severe and extreme pain, persistent dehumanization, hunger, and abuse, a man can find freedom.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
As an example of what we can do with our freedom, Victor Frankl said and I quote:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way, Victor Frankl.