Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bad Advice: Some thoughts on yesterday's post

Yesterday, I posted a Rainer Maria Rilke quotation for OAtZ's regular Monday morning "Good Advice" feature. I originally shared it because at the time I thought it was good advice, and because I liked the poster.

But something about that quote has been bugging me ever since it went up, and now, I'm not so sure I agree with Rilke's advice anymore. Should you just let life happen to you? Maybe, sometimes, but probably not always. Sure, there are certainly things in life that you can't control, and dwelling over them is usually a waste of time and energy. Those are the times when the only thing to do is find a way to accept the situation and move on. But. How do you know when it's time to accept, and when it's time to fight? 

A friend teased me on twitter about this quotation yesterday, suggesting it sounded vaguely pro-life. That most definitely was not how I intended it to be taken. I know that this was said with tongue firmly in cheek, but it kinda cemented the discomfort I was already feeling about it. Just to briefly clarify my feelings on that topic,  I believe that if there is something you can do to change your life for the better, then you must do it. For some, that might mean choosing to terminate in the face of an unplanned pregnancy. That is something we (thankfully) still have the right to do in this country. But it could also mean voting, taking action, being passionate and caring enough to create the life you want for yourself and to do whatever you can to create the kind of world you want to live in.  It means, quite simply, that when we do have a choice, it's imperative that we make a choice, rather than letting someone else choose for us. 

The Rilke quote may be about acceptance rather than apathy, but there is a fine line between them, and it's very important to know the difference. There is a passivity in letting life simply happen to you, it means losing control of your own destiny and allowing others to shape the world around you. Don't simply let life happen, make it happen. And when it doesn't happen the way you expect, at least know that you tried, and that you will try again. That is far better advice than what I passed on yesterday. Thanks for reading.


  1. I went through the same thing while reading the quote.
    Passivity vs. actively losing yourself vs. making life happen. It's complex.

    Make life happen and enjoy the ride.

    P.s. the pro-life thing was just a matter of context to something I was reading that clashed at the time of your post! fully tonguefirmlyincheek

  2. Oh, I know! But I was already sorta struggling with it, you know? It's a cliche, but the serenity prayer is hands down the greatest piece of advice I've ever been given... change what you can and accept what you can't. It's fairly simple, but it's "the wisdom to know the difference" that can complicate things...

  3. My two cents? Glad you asked...

    You plant the seeds of future happiness as best you can - that's the "make it happen" part. You tend and water the seeds and do your best to do your due diligence - being thoughtful about and taking ownership of your choices. What actually grows and thrives in the garden is not yours to decide - that's the "let life happen" part. You might get a bumper crop one year or get wiped out by a flood another. You have to accept that inherent risk going in. Ours is only to keep gardening as best we can.

  4. I love the metaphor, thanks, Chris!