“It is what we are forced to do that forms our character, not what we do of our own free will.” – Alberto Moravia
What an interesting perspective from this twentieth-century Italian novelist and journalist, but is it true?
He was quoted as saying that the most important facts in his life had been an illness that confined him to bed for 5 years and Fascism, as it was these that forced him to do things he would not otherwise have done.
I think there is a great deal to be said for this point of view, especially if we follow the opposite, and see what happens when free will is given its reign.
Sometimes, we really, honestly want something and go all out to get it. We trample on people and loose our health and well-being in pursuit of our goal, and may, with luck and a following wind, succeed in our endeavor.
What then follows is sad to see, because it is often only when the object of our desire has been accomplished that we truly understand the futile nature of our quest. In terms of character, we have learned how to seek for our goal, but not learned how to live our life after that milestone has been reached.
On the other hand, it is often when things do not go along with our expected path that we really learn how to live. We may have decided that the best thing for us was to have a long career in one field, when suddenly the company we work for faces financial difficulty and we are out of work. Many people have faced this, and continue to do so, but the outcome is not always what we feared. Instead of the steady career that we had expected, we instead find a better job somewhere else, and we learn to be adaptable in our expectations and lifestyle.
It is often the way that we learn more from things that “go wrong” than from those that meet our expectations. Our character is formed from our experiences, our adventures along the road. If all is plain sailing, then our experiences will have been few, and our adventures limited by our own imagination.
Faced with crises, we react. Whether we react well or badly, it seems to make little difference to the outcome, but it does make a difference to us. Faced with something unexpected, we can scream and cry out and try to hang on to the known. We can ignore the changed situation and attempt to carry on as “normal”. If our reaction is one of these we will not change the fact of the matter, but we will be hurt by the deviation from what we think of as the correct path.
Or, we may reflect on Alberto Moravia’s words and remember that, sometimes, it is in the unexpected that we find the most long term joy. It is often the forced actions that bring the most learning on our journey through life.