Peering Into the Future

Photo by Anete Lusina on

I never had one of those Magic 8 balls as a kid, but I took advantage of the ones owned by my friends. It was delightful to ask a question about the future then watch a promising answer appear in the liquid that seemed to predict my fate. Of course even then I understood that there really is no crystal ball and that no fortune teller is actually able to see into the days and years ahead. What is more likely to indicate what will happen over time is good old mathematical data analysis aided by a computer. 

Actuaries have used the math of statistics for decades to determine rates for insurance and pay outs for pensions. We’ve used science to predict the weather and to measure changes in the climate. Still, we have yet to determine a way to reliably predict the outcomes of our human interactions. The quirks of our personalities make it impossible to know when a violent act will occur or if an underdog will suddenly burst forth in glory. We humans are an interesting bunch, too complex to determine what our future outcomes might be. 

I suppose that even if there were a way to foretell what will happen with individuals, it would be best not to know. Such prophecies might no doubt become self-fulfilling, killing character traits like determination even in the face of defeat. Why bother working hard if one already knows that doing so would be without consequence? How dreary life would be if it felt as though every aspect of who we are and what we become has already been predetermined. It is in the not knowing, the possibilities, that we often become our very best. 

We love heroes and stories of heroes, especially when they feature the underdog. Who would have thought that a former comedian running a small country in Eastern Europe would demonstrate so much courage and leadership in a war against a world power? We daily watch Vladimir Zelensky standing firm and tall in his resolve to defend the freedom of his citizens. Would a crystal ball reading from a wandering psychic have led him to this moment any better than the simple love of his country and its independence? I think not.

Chrystal balls do not show us how to live, but our hearts and our heads often do. When we put them together we can create a mighty force. Using both our senses and our sensibilities is necessary for making important life decisions. Science and math should have a place in our daily lives, but our intuitions also help us to know how to proceed toward our futures. If we have evidence that our actions are destroying the planet, we can adjust the way we use resources and participate in the effort to slow down the rising of the temperature. If we think that we should not worry and that such is the problem of future generations, we may only contribute to creating a mess that will be difficult for our great grandchildren to handle. We have the ability with logic and love to interrupt the inevitability of droughts and mighty storms that destroy the planet.

I once heard that researchers were close to having tests that might determine which babies would grow up to have mental illnesses and other diseases. While this might sound like something rather miraculous, medical ethics have yet to embrace such ideas because of the feeling that it would be devastating to classify a newborn by the genetic structures that may or may not eventually affect his/her health. Imagine parents constantly looking for signs of disease that may never actually materialize. iI would be a terrible way to live. On the other hand, those parents would be better served to provide their child with a well rounded balance of love, healthy eating, exercise and stimulation of the brain. 

There is no certainty in anyone’s life, but there are ways of living that are more fulfilling than others. Teaching children how to be resilient when disappointments and losses come their way is critical in predicting their ability to withstand challenges. Showing our young how to think, how to be determined and how to be kind are skills that most often lead to future well-being. We may not have the power to predict the future, but we in fact know how to nurture our young to make them strong of mind, body and heart. 

Our world is changing before our very eyes. This is as inevitable as the rising and setting of the sun. We cannot be masters over all of the world’s events, but we can respond as helpers and builders rather than victims. We determine our own futures by the ways that we interact in every moment of every single day. We don’t need crystal balls to guide us. 

Stephen King wrote a thriller about a man who was able to walk into the past with his knowledge of the future. He found himself in Dallas, Texas just before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He became obsessed with stopping the killing. What he found was that changing the outcome of events also changed the trajectory of every aspect of the world. In the end he learned that it is best just to leave things as things as they were. 

Humans have always been fascinated with the idea of peering into the future when doing so would make our lives so much less exciting and meaningful. In truth we are much the better for just taking on each day with all of the joy and even anxiety that living entails. Life is a journey, an adventure. Best that we enjoy the ups and tackle the downs and just move forward as confidently as we can. Have fun with that Magic 8 ball, but don’t take it too seriously and laugh no matter what is says.


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