(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text.)
(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River.)
In my book China Bound, I briefly address the subject of fate – specifically, whether the concept should be spelled with a small “f” (fate) or a capital “F” (Fate).
However, regardless of your personal beliefs about the workings of fate/Fate, we must also bear some individual responsibility. Anyone old enough to reflect on their circumstances will recognize at once that everything we are today is a result of our decisions – with, admittedly, some occasional random luck thrown into the mix, i.e, the influence of fate/Fate. Sitting here with a nice cup of coffee on a quiet Saturday morning, I am reflecting that I must be the luckiest guy in the world – regardless of if you capitalize Fate or persist in seeing it as a small f word.
This may seem an odd statement, since we are currently mired in a worldwide pandemic crisis; but it’s true. We cannot completely control our immediate environment and we certainly cannot control what the world throws at us. What we can control, however, is our response to them.
Going even deeper, I’m looking at how every decision I made through my lifetime – good, bad, foolish, hormone-fueled, impulsive, or carefully considered – led me to this Saturday morning, in this city, in my 18th-floor homestead, with this nice cup of coffee. Likewise, wherever you are and whatever your present conditions, your present conditions are also the cumulative results of your decisions.
Truthfully, I’m pretty content with my life at this point. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But I believe that, if they knew of the many good features and the dearth of negative ones in my current life, fully 99% of all the people around the world would love to trade places with me.
Let me explain that statement as I sit here savoring my coffee. Most of the time when we envy the standard of living and quality of life of other people, we don’t see that they are accompanied by complications, pressures, time demands, and stresses. Frequently, financial obligations, bad relationships, and social commitments ruin the quality of life of those who are fortunate enough to have a high standard of living. I am largely exempt from those negative influences. Just lucky, I guess. Thanks, fate/Fate.
First of all, I have a quiet and simple lifestyle, as symbolized by my standard opening line: “from the 18th floor homestead”. A quiet and simple life is what I choose. In these frantic times, that lifestyle, which is patterned after role models from earlier periods, is priceless. The earlier era upon which it is modeled is beyond recovery but I have selected some of the best features and brought them forward to 2020.
I frequently think about Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, and his choice to live alone in the woods in a very small, primitive cabin which he built himself. I would not want to go back to his level of simplicity but I believe an enviable standard of living and a lovely quality of life can be attained, while retaining a relatively simple lifestyle. It takes some effort and it involves a few compromises… but it is possible.
Thus my 18th-floor homestead contains things that were not available to my role models. Thanks to modern technology with its wonderful devices and conveniences, I enjoy a number of creature comforts which keep my simple life from being too simple. With the internet’s online shopping sites and Chongqing’s local resources – and a megacity of 30 million people has a lot of local resources – I have access to almost anything that I might desire… whenever I desire more personal possessions.
However, I really don’t want too many more possessions. I learned that possessions can easily come to possess us with their demands for maintenance, for attention, for appearances, for upgrades, for concerns about what other people think, and for all the time it takes to struggle up the learning curve before we can use them well. And don’t forget the opportunity costs of all those possessions: If you weren’t spending your time with them, what might you be doing? Beware of what you wish for… because you might get it.
Thus, as I sit here with my coffee, I realize that any changes, however minor, in the path that brought me to this particular Saturday morning, would mean that I would not be here, quietly sipping my coffee and reflecting. Any deviations in the twisting path along the way would mean that I would not have the wife and son that I now live with in my humble 18th-floor homestead. Any changes in the decisions I had made would mean that I might not have the quiet and simple life that I devised. Any changes anywhere along the line from birth to this morning, would mean that the quality of life and the standard of living which I enjoy today would probably be different. Perhaps quite different, indeed.
So, with my rapidly cooling coffee, I am very content with the life I have right now. We know that change is inevitable and, most of the time, we cannot predict the specific changes – nor prevent them. Indeed, one thing which the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is that we should not expect things to be this way tomorrow. (Perhaps we will not even be here tomorrow.) And, with that awareness, we should be much more grateful and conscious of all the blessings that we have.
What about you? Would you wish to change from the lifestyle that you have today? Would you like to trade places with someone else? Why? Do you accept that your life today is the result of the long, long series of decisions you have made? What would it take for you to be satisfied with your life? Maybe it is time to make some new decisions, take some new actions. What can you begin to change to achieve that superior life you just visualized?
But, before you rush off to begin making changes, consider another question: What would it take for you to be more grateful for the many good things – products and services and relationships – you have right now? What do you have today that you should be more grateful for? Are you grateful? Do you express that gratitude? If more people were also conscious of their many blessings, perhaps they would also be saying, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
To learn my conclusions on that capitalization issue of “fate vs Fate?”, you will have to read to the very end of my rather long book, China Bound.
在我的《China Bound》一书中，我简要地讨论了命运的问题–具体来说，这个概念是应该用小 “f”（命运）还是大写的 “F”（命运）来拼写*。