I WAS watching a feature on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the piece was ending, I wondered what would have happened in our country, indeed in our world, had he not been shot and killed on a motel balcony in Memphis. Would the work he could have done made our racial situation better? What role would he have had in leading our country?
Pretty quickly I added in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. What if those events had been avoided? Would it have affected the war in Vietnam? Would Nixon have been president? And if he had not, what would our relationship with China be?
All of which highlights the countless random events that shape not only the lives of those individuals. We cannot forget that three men were husbands, fathers, and sons. But they were also leaders in our world. Losing them no doubt changed a million outcomes.
I remember being at a planning meeting for a business and listening to the "experts" talking about the plan the company needed for the next five years. I offered the opinion that it seemed we were all a bit like fleas on a log in the middle of the Maumee at full flood, sticking our legs in to help stir. Whatever effect our decisions might have, there were multiple events far beyond our control that would more certainly determine the outcome. There is an old saying that inertia is the greatest force in the world. I am not sure it is not the propensity for randomness that is truly the greatest force.
From a religious standpoint, there is an issue of the extent to which God, whether Christian, Hindu, or Islamic, determines the outcome of our lives. Certainly in the absence of free will, the choice between alternatives, Christianity does not make not a lot of sense. If I sin, I do it because I have been created to do that. If I lead an exemplary life, neither my parents or I could take any pride in it - it was supposed to happen. I think the same is true of other religions, although I know that some believe in predestination. That is the concept whereby all of life's events are preordained, leaving one of its practitioners to comment after he had fallen down the steps and broken his leg. "Thank goodness that's over!"
There is not a parent who does not fear the call in the night from the police. Few families have avoided experiencing the tragedy of random losses. The late Pat Tillman died a hero in Iraq. He was killed apparently as a result of shots fired by our own troops, hardly a result he anticipated but no doubt a risk he accepted.
To be sure, not all random acts are bad. Winning the Ohio Lottery is pretty darn random, but financially rewarding. Missing your flight, only to learn that the aircraft you would have been on crashed, can make you feel a little better about your circumstances.
To live with less stress and greater freedom, embracing randomness as an immutable circumstance is a good choice. By definition we cannot change the results of random acts. But we can learn to accept them and realize that it is the randomness of life that makes it worth living. On a somewhat trivial basis, if every time you went to fishing, you were going to catch 12-inch bass on every cast, the sport would soon become a totally boring experience. You need the fishless days and the sudden strike of a 20-incher to make it fun.
If we were going to live forever in our present form, from where would come our desire to do anything? Choices lead to random consequences, often not the ones we intended. Whether I or others believe they occur on the context of religious beliefs, or simply because "that's the way things are," the randomness of life is perhaps its greatest value.
It may be that the events in life are all planned, that there is no randomness but rather our perception of it. I think not, and I hope not. Religions seem to stress the response to the event, rather than the event.
We need to plan for the future. But we have to recognize there will be twists or turns that will not be anticipated in the final draft, and be comfortable with that circumstance. What we have to understand is the truth of a Russian proverb which runs, "Man plans and God laughs."
Richard M. Kerger is a partner in the Toledo law firm of Kerger and Kerger.