Young Craig Nagel and His FatherWhen I was a callow young fellow and knew a lot more than I know now, someone told me that character and fate were pretty much the same thing. Instead of fate crashing down on you from the outside, it supposedly grew from within the seeds of your own character.
Naturally, I scoffed at that. What young person wouldn’t? It seemed absurd. Fate was something that befell you; good or bad, it simply happened, like getting the mumps or winning a lottery.
But I have come to change my view, and find myself increasingly in sympathy with the fate-is-character school of thought, as exemplified in the following insights from one of my heroes, the late Sydney J. Harris.
“Consider, for example,” wrote Harris, “that the same strand of thinking runs through all religions, ethics, folklore and fairy tails. Peace and happiness depend on one rule, one command. Man is permitted to do whatever he wants—except one special thing, which may seem ludicrous, or unimportant, or unfair.
“Adam and Eve may live in contentment so long as they do not touch the forbidden fruit. Lot’s wife may escape so long as she doesn’t look back. Pandora may be happy, provided she does not open the box. Cinderella may go to the ball, but she must be back by midnight.
“The wisdom in all these stories, of all nations—whether you accept them on a religious or a psychological basis—is the same. It warns us there is one precept we cannot violate with impunity: we cannot succumb to our own specific weakness, whatever that might be.
“If our weakness is pride, we may not defy the commandment and eat the apple. If our weakness is curiosity, we may not look back on the burning city. If our weakness is willfulness, we may not open the box and let the world’s woes escape.
“For people do not fail, as they sometimes think, by the weight of external circumstances. Instead, the circumstances they get into are created by their personalities. The real disasters begin with a cracking on the inside, not with pressure from the outside.
“Each of us, like the characters in a fairy tale, has a basic law of our nature which we must observe; upon the observance of this law depends our fate. We must not break our promise to the frog, or linger too long in the woods talking to strangers. Our special weakness may not be fatal. But it will decide what we call our fate.”

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