The Unavoidable Randomness of Life
and how it can make you more humble and generous
Let’s talk about some more philosophy stuff. But I promise we’ll do it in a relatable way today. Or at least try. Think about this for a minute: who deserves credit for the things you do? You, right? But wait, what about your parents? They raised you and had a huge influence on what kind of person you are. When it really comes down to it, don’t they deserve the credit? I mean, if you had different parents, chances are you would not be doing the things you are doing. In fact, you would literally be a different person, so it’s almost certain that you wouldn’t.
But let’s keep going. We all remember learning about nature vs nurture in some science class as a kid. Parents are only a part of the nurture piece, really. Your education also gets a piece of the credit. Your friends, and even acquaintances and enemies get some credit for the way you came out. Really, there’s quite a lot of people and things that can take pieces of the credit. But let’s look at nature — that part you must deserve credit for, right? Your genetics are what make you unique, and what make you you. But those came from your parents, literally. And who your parents are was completely random, and outside your control. So not really.
When you boil it all down, everything ends at random chance. Let’s take the parents thing further. How did your parents end up as your parents? Random chance. The specific conditions, time, and genetics that went into making you actually be born as yourself were just randomly determined by another string of events that you can trace all the way through your entire family tree and every other thing or person that ever influenced one of those people, all the way back to when we weren’t even humans anymore, and eventually to the Big Bang. Every one of those things happened by a string of random chance. There are so many things that led to the fact that you are you, sitting here reading this, and not one of them is some mystical “you-ness”. In fact, as we already know from the Buddhist concept of emptiness, there is actually no inherent “you” anyway. So I think we can conclude with pretty high certainty that you do not deserve credit for anything you do.
So the next question is did you actually have any choice on the things you choose to do? Sometimes we make decisions about things, and it feels like we have free will, we had the power to make the decision. But it’s our life experiences and influences that come together in our brains to make us decide the way we do. And as we know, our life experiences and influences are determined by random chance. You might even say that you could break the cycle by making your decisions by flipping a coin or rolling dice, but then you’re giving it up to random chance anyway. We can go inception-deep if we think that perhaps someone might read this article then think they can prove that they have free will by purposefully changing their decision the next time they are faced with one. But alas, a combination of random chance and your life influences (which are one and the same) led you here to this article, which influenced your thoughts that way. So this goes no further towards proving you have free will, but instead makes tracing the path to the things that deserve credit even easier.
What Does It Mean?
Ok so that was a lot to handle. Honestly just writing that boggled my brain, so let’s take a moment to breathe and relax. Ok, good? Let’s keep going. You might be thinking now, “Ok this is all great Jeff but what is the point?” We’re getting to that — there are actually tons of benefits.
First, once you have come to a full understanding of the fact that you don’t deserve personal credit for anything, that you don’t actually have control over the choices you make, and that every part of who you are was determined by random chance, the whole concept of your ego starts to melt away. How can you be egotistic when you don’t deserve credit for all the great things you have done? If you need to divide up the pie and give credit to your parents and friends and schools and everything in between, there just isn’t much left at the end for that greedy ego to claim for you, you, you. Understanding these concepts makes you a more humble person.
A boost of humility and appreciation for others comes alongside another great benefit, which is a decrease in competitiveness. Being competitive with others typically increases hostility and can create rifts within your relationships. But when you don’t have such a hungry ego to feed, the drive for intense competition fades, and you become a calmer person with stronger relationships.
Understanding these concepts also provides a huge boost to your compassion. This is the difference between looking at a homeless person on the street with disdain, thinking that he made poor decisions that got him to where he is and looking at that same person and thinking “I could be that person”. And if you understand this concept, you fully realize that you could. You could have also been born to a single mother in a war-torn country. The fact that you were born as you is pure and absolute lottery-level luck. Not everyone has luck like that. So realizing how fortunate you are, and how much worse of a roll other people can get makes you more compassionate towards them.
And now for the grand conclusion — after you have become a more humble, less competitive, and more compassionate person with less egotistic goals, you will find that your happiness levels and life quality steeply increase. I’m not just making this up, it’s been proven by studies.
Understanding that everything is random and you have no free will is not easy. They are difficult concepts to grasp conceptually, and on top of that, most people do not think and act in this manner, so you have to constantly remind yourself of it. But try it out — take some time to really think about them and how it can change the way you look at things. Once you have fully grasped them, you will see marked improvements in your demeanor, relationships, and overall life quality.
Stay humble, and help people 💖
Photo is from Madrid, a fireworks show in Retiro Park. Even when things are entirely random, they can be beautiful.