Are you in control of your own destiny?
Philosophers throughout history would say not. James Burns (2003) analyzes the thinking of men such as Karl Marx, Leo Tolstoy, and Herbert Spencer—19th century philosophers from Germany, Russia, and Britain respectively—in his book Transforming Leadership. Whatever our character traits might be or whatever guiding principles we adhere to, “life happens,” as it were. Endless happenings affect our daily lives. Some we can control or mitigate for while others are inevitable.
As Burns (2003) points out, “if these are unsettling questions in our private lives, imagine how complex and urgent they can be in society as a whole, and how potent in their implications for leadership.” As individuals, we are influenced by the actions and motivations of society as a whole. Just as fish in the ocean are powerless against the currents around them, so are we powerless against the steady march of history. The best we can do is navigate within our circumstances.
“Man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity. A deed done is irrevocable, and its result coinciding in time with the actions of millions of other men assumes an historic significance. The higher a man stands on the social ladder, the more people he is connected with and the more evident is the predestination and inevitability of his every action” (Tolstoy, 1869).
Our individual decisions affect society no more than a raindrop affects the ocean; it is only the combined result of every individual’s decision that creates change. Considering my chosen career path (accounting) in light of this fact, I see that my small decisions to choose a more ethical option do not make waves of change on their own, but only in the company of others making similar decisions.
This way of thinking in a way supports the conclusion presented by Wigg-Stevenson (2013) that the world is not ours to save. We can’t make society perfect on our own, nor can we damn it. Let’s stop overestimating our ability to fix things; it is not under our control, we can only serve the God whose world it is.
1. Burns, James MacGregor. (2003). Transforming leadership: A new pursuit of happiness. New York, New York, USA: Grove Press.
2. Tolstoy, Leo. (1869). War and peace. Centaur Editions.
3. Wigg-Stevenson, Tyler. (2013). The world is not ours to save: Finding the freedom to do good. Downers Grove, Illinois, USA: InterVarsity Press.