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Monday, October 7, 2013

Day 461: I am the Master of my own Fate

The following is an extract from the book Social Psychology (Twelfth Edition) by Robert A Baron, Nyla R Branscombe, & Donn Byrne.


Another fascinating question concerning attribution is this: Do we perceive the events in our own lives (and perhaps, in other people's lives, too) as stemming primarily from fate - forces outside our control that, in a sense, predetermine our destiny - or from our own actions - in which case, the outcomes we experience will depend on what we freely choose to do. This is a complex question, and in fact, although these two explanations for events might seem to be contradictory, research findings suggest that we actually accept both - we believe that both fate outside and our own actions shape our lives. However we don't give these two possible causes equal weight at all times. Rather, we tend to swing back and forth between them depending on what social psychologists describe as the level of construal - whether we think about such events abstractly or in more concrete terms (eg, Trope & Lieberman, 2003). Here's an example of what this means: Suppose you are asked to describe some past accomplishment from your own life (eg, you made it onto a team; you won a prize for some activity). You can think about this accomplishment abstractly - for instance, wondering why you sought that goal or what good came from attaining it. Or you can think about it more concretely, asking yourself: What did you have to do to attain that goal? What techniques or skills did you use to achieve it? As you can see, the first kind of thinking considers the ultimate meaning of your actions and various events, while the latter considers smaller details - how it occurred and not why it occurred. Two researchers (Burrus & Roese, 2006) have recently proposed that thinking in abstract terms (high levels of construals) leads us to emphasize the importance of fate as a factor in our lives while thinking in more concrete terms leads us to downplay the influence of fate. 

Is fate then wholly a figment of our imaginations? If our thinking influences the degree to which we believe fate directs our lives then is our belief in fate even valid in the first place? Did we just make up the concept of fate so as to make our lives seem more meaningful?

That is one thing we seem to ask often: "why are we here?" What is the meaning of life? Is there some great and powerful magic bean that thought us up and is controlling our lives with it's great and powerful magic bean Plan? Why do bad things happen to us? There is no way that our being here, that our being alive is just a random occurrence and that we direct our own existence. It's way better believing in a magic bean. This way the magic bean can take the fall for us. Just sayin'...

This goes to show how easily our opinions and perspectives can be manipulated - all you need to do is get us in the right frame of mind and we will bend to your will. We've already proven that we will believe pretty much anything.

The interesting thing about fate is that it removes our responsibility - it liberates us from being responsible for our actions and puts it all on some great force out there. The idea that there is some great force taking an interest in our lives makes us feel ever so special - it makes us feel like we have been touched by some Divine Intervention - but only if the intervention is good. If we get slapped in the face by a cruel twist of fate then we sigh and turn toward the sky, asking the question "why me?" To that God would respond "Well why the hell not you?"

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