Nicholas Barker
March 25, 1999

One question that arouses us as humans is why are we here? When trying to answer this question, we have only come up with more questions. One of which, to what extent are you the product of your own conditioning? Basically meaning what choices we are able to make. As long as we are able to determine what is morally right and morally wrong, we can be held accountable for our actions. Of course there are exceptions to this, (like most rules) one of which could be a child obeying his mother. Hence the child cannot be held accountable, because he was obeying his mother. In this circumstance the mother would be held accountable. There are relatively few things that we can control about who we really are as individuals, however our choices are in our control. Chinese thought says that as in nature, the human is composed of five elements; Earth, metal, water, wood, and fire. Earth being the thoughtful and nourishing aspects, metal being our respectful and inspirational side, water giving us our wisdom and capability to listen, wood giving us our vision and creativity, and finally fire giving us warmth and compassion. I feel that it is up to us that we determine how strong or weak each of our elements are, individually. Chinese philosophy reminds us that “we must nourish ourselves before we can expect to nourish anyone else.”(118) Thus we are the products of our own conditioning as long as we are able to make choices. Choices can help determine who and what a person is. Things such as birth gender and race we are unable to control. Basically what we, as individuals produce, whether it be verbal or physical, allows us to have say in our own conditioning. As the Buddha would say, we must be clear and empty of our desires before we can reach enlightenment. Which leads to another important point; our subconscious urges.
We’ve all probably had an urge that we hoped just went away. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Subconscious desires live in us, however can we control them, or do they control us? To a small extent we are prisoners to the urges, because we don’t know where they come from. We cannot cease the desire, but we can choose whether or not to take action on it. The urges cannot be controlled, but acting on them can. Thus, we are not prisoners; it’s more like we’re on probation. If we act on our desires we will be in “prison,” but if we do not, then the answer is no. In fact, sometimes we can learn from the desires. We can see just how strong we are, once we have controlled the desire. As Aristotle would retort, we should at least have them in “moderation.” (39) The urge would keep us prisoner, if it interferes with our health, business or relationships. Thus it is different from person to person, and also it depends on how extreme the urge is. But if we can control acting on the desire, then no, we are not prisoners.
Are we the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls? A scientific approach would refer us to DNA. Things such as genetics and ethnicity play an important role in our lifestyles. Diseases can also be carried through genes, giving no chance for the individual to opt out of having them. We have very little choice in determining our fate. An exception to this (like most examples) would be guns, and/or suicide. However, even then perhaps there was no room for choice. Perhaps fate brought the person committing suicide such a horrible life; they felt they didn’t want to live. One can only speculate on factors such as suicide, because each case is significantly different. On the grand scheme of things we can manipulate our fate, but never control it. We can manipulate our fate by being health conscious or avoiding life threatening situations. Why are we here?… because fate has brought us here, and we couldn’t control that. Our souls, however, we do have some accountability for.
Are we the captains of our souls? Of course we are. This was a good metaphor, because like a boat into sea, our souls are our