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Nathanael Garrett Novosel, July 28 2021

You Didn’t Choose to Be Born...But Should You Act Like You Did?

You might not have chosen to be born, but you're surprisingly better off acting as if you had.

You know the scenario: a parent and child get into an argument.  There's usually some sort of pressure on the child to behave in some way or meet some set of expectations that results in the now-cliché response, "I didn't choose to be born!"  What is causing this response, what does it mean, and is it good to have that attitude toward your life?

Most people use this retort for two simple reasons:

This is an interesting method because it's the ultimate "leave me alone" comment: it's difficult to argue with someone who pleads that they didn't cause themselves to be the way that they are.  Usually, this ends the conversation as the arguing parties take time to cool off.  However, it has one risk associated with it: it might be used as a justification for a bad attitude or bad behavior.

So, how likely is this to happen?  Well, most people are willing to change their behavior or attitude slightly to meet their parents halfway once the "grilling" is over with.  However, a portion might fall into defeatist or nihilistic attitudes where they don't have agency and, therefore, aren't responsible for their actions at all.  And that's what I want to explore in this post.

No, you have no idea whether you existed in a non-physical form before this and chose to inhabit this body.  All science can prove is that you were born from a fertilized egg in your (surrogate) mother's womb and, through genetics and your environment, became the person you are today.  So it's reasonable to assume that you didn't choose to be here and are stuck here until you die.  In that case, you might be able to let yourself off the hook a little for what you might perceive to be your shortcomings: your looks, intelligence, natural athletic ability, etc. are not your "fault" but rather random genetic luck.  If it helps you to let those go and focus on your controllable factors like how you spend your time and where you choose to improve yourself, then that's great.  But if causes you to feel like nothing matters, an alternative might be better for you.

So let's get a little metaphysical hypothetically just to see how it might positively impact your view of your life.  What if you did choose to be here?  What would be those implications?  Well, there are two big ones that come to mind:

This is fascinating because in the random scenario, there is no meaning to your looks, your family, or anything and so everything that sucks about your life is just how it is.  But if you chose this life...it magically gets meaning that it didn't have before.  Heck, it arguably gets more meaning that if you assumed that another entity put you here.  In that scenario, you're still looking for what those intentions were/are...but it's a little bit different when you consider the fact that you might have had intentions that you might not fully understand in your current life.  To me, that makes it the more interesting thought exercise and gives you more of a self-determined destiny—even if you're ultimately trying to determine what you intended to do before you came here.

Back to the two implications: if you look for reasons why you might've chosen to be in the body/life you have, you are now implicitly shifting your attention to all of the learning opportunities and beneficial/rewarding experiences that you might have in this life.  Again, the point is not to get you to believe in anything outside of what you can prove scientifically if you so choose; the point of the thought exercise is to realize that believing that you might have wanted to be here changes your entire view of your life toward one where you are looking for positive aspects of your life and future.  And that is what makes the exercise powerful: without any fluffy platitudes about how life is supposed to be great, you can go from a defeatist attitude to an intentional, purposeful attitude just by asking yourself why you would have chosen to occupy the life you have right now.  It's an amazing exercise that instills your life with meaning without anything about your life changing.

Let's go through a few examples.  Maybe you're short.  It could be that you wanted to experience a life where you learned to get help from others more effectively.  Maybe you're not very attractive; in that case, maybe you wanted someone to love you for you and attractiveness attracts too many people who just want you for your looks.  Maybe you are sarcastic and talk back a lot; maybe you were supposed to bring humor to others or stand up to bullies on behalf of the weak and vulnerable.  No matter the situation, you can see how your personality, talent, or physical attributes can be beneficial to your life experience through this exercise.

Do you really have to believe that?  No, of course not.  You're welcome to if you'd like, as there are more benefits to acting as if you chose to be in this life (or at least didn't choose to be here but choose to make the most of it) than if you had no choice and are a victim of circumstance.  However, the thought exercise is simply a way to offset the defeatist attitude that can result from waving your hands in the air and claiming that you had no say in being here and so you can't help anything about yourself or your lot in life.

In summary, did you choose to be here?  There's no physical evidence that you did.  Should you, therefore, avoid taking any responsibility for yourself?  Absolutely not.  In fact, you're better off acting as if you did choose to be here so you find the reasons why you would want to be the way that you are and what experiences you can pursue in life to fulfill your intentions.  Do that, and you'll find more meaning in being who you are and living your life as only you can live it; you'll also like yourself more and stop beating yourself up for not being more like someone else.

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Nathanael Garrett Novosel

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