Something interesting happened tonight while I was driving back from a home teaching visit in South Yunderup. I was driving on Lakes Road, not far behind an ambulance (Peel Hospital is on Lakes Road), when I felt a rather strong, positive emotion in connection with the ambulance.
Immediately my mind started making attempts at labelling the emotion, and making sense of it. My first reaction was to think about the future, and how this feeling may have something to do with my future career. Perhaps I will have more to do with hospitals than I thought. That was my line of thinking: I was trying to find meaning in the emotion I had just felt, and to use that meaning to anticipate my own decisions and path in the future.
A few seconds later I remembered some of the things I had learned last semester at Uni about a style of thinking called “Crystal Ball”. It is much more likely that my emotional reaction was linked to my past experiences, such as my childhood illnesses, Joshua’s birth, his heart surgery, my two hospitalisations for hypoglycaemia or Anne-Marie’s miscarriage, than to a future event. In each of these situations, ambulances and ambulance officers represented protection, safety, relief and comfort. Each time they alleviated my fears of the unknown future surrounding stressful or even traumatic experiences. It is quite natural that I would get a nice feeling when I see an ambulance.
However, it took a fair bit of thinking to arrive at that conclusion, and I don’t think I would have been able to reach these conclusions a few years ago, when I knew far less about the way people think. As I said, my first reaction was to interpret this emotion as an “omen”, a sign of my future vocation, and it is quite probable that, should I have decided to retain that interpretation, it would have influenced my future decisions in a form of self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, why did I have this initial reaction? Do I have a strong need to know what the future holds for me?
I definitely think that most people are anxious to know what the future holds, to varying degrees and for slightly different reasons. We might be afraid of growing old or dying, of developing a disease that is prevalent in our family, of getting hurt in a freak accident, or of not achieving much and remaining a nobody throughout our life. These are common fears, and there are many others, because, let’s face it, none of us knows exactly what the future holds, not even what will happen tomorrow.
Even more relevant to the story I just told, we don’t know our own future decisions. We might feel certain that we will never do or say something (“I would never do anything to hurt you!”), or we may be extremely confident that our chosen career as a marine biologist best defines us and suits our interests, and that we will never change, but the truth is that we don’t know. People change daily, and are often unaware of the general direction towards which their character and personality are evolving. Most people are at least vaguely aware of their own changeableness, and this can cause anxiety about the future.
Hence, to avoid the darkness of an unknown future in which our own self is a stranger, we seek meaning and purpose through religion, good causes and the occasional self-fulfilling prophecy. The nice thing about self-fulfilling prophecies is that they shift the locus of responsibility for our decisions away from ourselves: we’ve received some sort of “sign” or “clue” as to what we should do, we then act as if that sign were a fact, our interpretation of the meaning of the sign is then more likely to occur, and when it does we see confirmation that an external source has benevolently guided our decisions.
Once in a while, it’s good to be able to let go of absolute responsibility for every single choice and mistake we’ve made. Mistakes, though abhorrent to our society, are a normal, healthy and necessary part of life and are required for growth, learning and personal fulfilment. My religion doesn’t teach that all mistakes are sins and require repentance and guilt, in fact only very few mistakes fit that description, compared with the infinite variety of ways in which we can mess up each day.
Crystal ball thinking, however, can be a problem when it completely shifts the balance of responsibility away from us, and we start blaming all our problems or giving credit for all our blessings on external influences. If I do well at a very difficult exam, it wasn’t 100% a fluke, it wasn’t 100% God’s work, and it wasn’t 100% through my own merits.
Then again, it might be 100% due to cheating 🙂
- Understanding the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (gwizlearning.wordpress.com)
- Self-fulfilling Prophecy and End of an Aeon (eugiefoster.com)
- The Prophecy Is Self-Fulfilling! (tjtherien.wordpress.com)
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Medicine: Harm or Help to Patients? (hippreservation.org)