In English, we like to use the words “fate” and “destiny” interchangeably. Indeed, search them out in a thesaurus and you’ll find one in the other’s synonyms box. But take a closer look, and you’ll notice there are slight differences in the nuance of their meanings.
Fate, for example, “stresses the irrationality and impersonal character of events,” according to the dictionary. It comes from the Latin fata, and is defined as a “prophetic declaration, oracle, prediction.” Something akin to, oh I don’t know…Shit happens, so get on with it?
Destiny is somewhat more prosaic, etymologically speaking, and comes from the Old French, destinée, which refers to “purpose, intent, fate, destiny; that which is destined.” So this might be closer to , Oh I don’t know, It was meant to be?
This lack of a clear-as-day distinction between the two words in English never really concerned me (actually, I don’t think it concerns too many people), but when I started learning Korean I noticed they did separate the notions of destiny, unmyung (운명), and fate, palja (팔자), both of which come from Chinese characters (運命 and 八字, respectively), and that got me thinking.
Before continuing, I thought I would let a couple of two mart guyz put in their two nickles (we no longer have pennies in Canada) about fate/destiny and the whole pre-determination thing.
“Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect, as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”
― Albert Einstein
And then there’s this little-known go-getter.
“I have noticed that even those who assert that everything is predestined and that we can change nothing about it still look both ways before they cross the street.”
― Stephen Hawking
What’s interesting about the Korean terms is that people use palja when something goes wrong (It’s my palja to suffer/be married to a trainwreck/fail at business), while they use unmyung when things are going swimmingly (It was my unmyung to become president/be wealthy by age 30/fall in love with you).
I remember studying the notions of fate and pre-determination in philosophy class many moons ago at university and thinking to myself, Pre-determination seems like the easy way out for those who don’t want to own the bad with the good. Anyone can say they deserved what they got when it’s all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s much rarer for a person to take responsibility when shit falls apart and say, It wasn’t fate; it was my actions, and this is necessarily a consequence.
Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows. What I do know is that this last image below throws more food for thought into our salad a la fate & destiny, and something to consider as you get on with the rest of your day.