3 easy ways to change the future
I wanted to write a note about a very simple concept which just blows my mind. I guess it’s an extension of the idea of ‘cause and effect’ and it says that every single action and decision you make changes the future. It could be called ‘Sliding Doors Syndrome’ after the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow film. What blows my mind is where the initial thought leads you – down a tricky philosophical path of causality, fatalism, determinism and, ultimately, questioning our own free will.
Here are 3 everyday things that you can do which will alter the future – the future which would have happened had you not acted in the way you did.
1. Take a different route home
If you drive, this thought may have occurred to you already. Or not if you’re not weird like me. I drive to work every day and there are a number of routes I could take to get there and back. There is one particular fork in the road at which I could go left or straight on, and it was waiting for the lights to change at that junction that I thought one evening, ‘If today I just went straight on here instead of left, how would it change my life?’ And in a flash I imagined how my life could turn out differently beginning with this first very small and seemingly insignificant change.
If I went straight on, I would see different things on the way home – different cars, different shops, different fields. I would follow different drivers – perhaps much faster or slower than those who took the left fork in the road. I would almost certainly arrive home at a different time. My girlfriend might be in the bathroom instead of the living room at the time that I open the front door meaning that I feed the cats instead of her. Perhaps I cut my hand on the tin whilst doing this and require a plaster. Maybe this plaster is the last one in the box which reminds us to add it to our shopping list. Maybe this addition makes us go shopping that night when we might otherwise have put it off until tomorrow. Whilst in the medical aisle looking for plasters, we bump into an old friend and spend 5 minutes catching up. The friend hears I am looking for a new job and says there is an opening at their place that I’d be perfect for. I go for the interview and get the job, my life changed forever.
Cut back to me sitting in my car at that junction, mind blown.
Now, you might say that it wasn’t the fact that I altered my vehicular course that my life took a different turn, but that I am a clumsy sod who cut their hand on a tin of cat food. Correct, but I will always be clumsy whether I took the left turn or went straight on. The point is that I was being clumsy in a different place at a different time. Look at it the other way round: think about a time when an opportunity has presented itself to you – would it have happened if you hadn’t been in that place at that time? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. And would you have been in that place if you had taken a different route home one day in the past? I’d wager no. Even leaving the house 10 seconds earlier or later would have changed how long it took to get to the supermarket, changed what and who we saw on the way and – critically – changed the point at which we went down the medical aisle.
And after all of this, think about every other driver on the road on the way home whose journeys you altered in some small way by being on that road instead of your usual one (or by not being on your usual road). Then apply all of the above to all of them.
2. Shuffle a deck of cards
I recently received a deck of cards at work. It was one of those gifts from a business affiliate which is branded and has different promotional information about the company on each card. I have taken to shuffling this deck of cards while I am speaking on the phone to people just as a pass-time (plus my ‘riffle’ technique requires a bit of work). It occurred to me that every single time I do so, I am changing my life or the lives of others.
At some point I will probably take this deck of cards home. Despite their annoying corporate messages, they are actually quite nice cards. Plus all my old ones are tattered and smell of all the booze that has ever been spilt on them. Given that every single card game depends in some small or large capacity on ‘the luck of the draw’, every shuffle of the deck I make now re-arranges this order not just for the next game to be played with them, but for every single game ever to be played with them. Imagine that. Go and shuffle a deck of cards with the knowledge that you are invariably altering the course of every pinochle, patience and poker party you will ever host (the first two are admittedly less likely than the third, but I needed them for alliteration). If there is money riding on each poker night then obviously the stakes are raised again.
And it’s not just playing cards. I have seen ‘healthy recipe cards’ that you can buy (52 cards in a deck, 52 weeks in a year = 1 recipe per week, clever really). Imagine you use these at home as part of a new year resolution to eat better food. You shuffle them on January 1st – but how many times? Each time you do will completely change how your year – and thus your life – turns out. Depending on the order, you will eat differently each week. You may have a conversation about chicken or lentils or asparagus or trout with a colleague or acquaintance if you had eaten that food that week. You may begin to bond with this person where you might not had you not conducted that initial conversation about the consistency of mashed potato and you may end up with a new friend – as well as their extended circle of friends. You may end up going to social events and places you’ve not been before. Maybe you’ll even meet the love of your life and parent to your future children and be kissing them at midnight on December 31st instead of grappling with the dilemma of ‘Hootenanny or Fireworks?’. All because you ate thrice cooked chips instead of the seafood risotto in week 12. You might also take the cards back to the shop and ask why ‘thrice cooked chips’ are included in a set of healthy eating recipes. Just another way your life could change.
3. Wait to throw the ball
This is one for the sports fans out there and specifically football fans (that’s ‘soccer’ to my American friends) although this could apply to a number of sports. It doesn’t matter much what level of sport you are watching, but for ease of explanation, let’s say it’s the Premier League.
You are watching Stoke vs. Wigan. In today’s climate, that’s a relegation 6-pointer (and for those not au-fait with footy terminology, that means it’s a very important game for both teams as each of them are in danger of relegation and need to win as well as needing their direct rivals to lose). Ryan Shawcross has already splintered Aruna Kone’s pelvis whilst clumsily roundhouse-kicking a bouncing ball clear and Tony Pulis’ incandescent rage at the resulting yellow card results in him telling his thuggish players to ‘snap the ref’. It’s a classic at the Britannia, and it’s 0-0. In the 89th minute, the ball is kicked out of play by Robert Huth (he was aiming for Franco Di Santo’s head but missed). The ball loops into the crowd and into your arms. You should take a second at this point to appreciate the power you hold in your hands.
While Maynor Figueroa is waiting for you to throw the ball to him, the players are getting into position on the pitch. If you throw the ball immediately back to him, he doesn’t see anything on, plays a safe ball back to defence and the two sides attritionally see out a 0-0 draw. Wigan end up relegated with Stoke staying up.
However, you don’t do that. You decide to wait 3 seconds before returning the ball. In those 3 seconds, Charlie Adam trips over his undone bootlaces and Wigan’s Ryo Miyaichi sees an opening. The ball is thrown to the on-running Arsenal loanee who dodges two leg-break attempts, a clothes line and numerous low-value coins thrown by the baying home crowd to slam the ball past Asmir Begovic. Wigan win 1-0 and stay up. The crushing defeat deflates Stoke and they end up being relegated to the Championship.
Fights break out in a few pubs and some fans get hospitalised. Pulis loses his job and never works in football again. Tabloid hacks will write different stories and match reports. The following season, the Stoke City fans travel to Coventry, Watford and Leicester fortnightly instead of Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. In addition, fans of the other 23 clubs in the Championship will be traveling to Stoke every other week instead of Wigan. All of this greatly affects the roads and trains on match days and consequently everyone else sharing them, applying ‘different road theory’ from the first example.
When you have that ball in your hands, you potentially hold the futures of millions of people. So like I said, take a second to appreciate that. Or 3.
Obviously we have no real control over the future. We can ‘alter’ it, but given that we have no idea whatsoever whether it will have a good or devastating effect, we are still slaves to the unknown. The ‘power’ we hold is like that of being entrusted to a panel of unmarked buttons, half of which send food, water and medication to a thousand starving children and the other half launch a nuclear missile to land on a different kitten sanctuary. Which buttons should you press? Well, you don’t know. You don’t have the power to know. But you do have the power to kick fate in one direction or the other, and it is a blind power that we have and exercise every single day with every single thing we do.
And even if you don’t subscribe to any of the above, my mere contemplation of these scenarios has compelled me to write this piece which you are now kindly taking the time to read. What would you be doing right now if I hadn’t done that?