Be the author
Harold is an IRS auditor who is obsessive about measuring and quantifying his life — down to counting brush strokes when he brushes his teeth.
He times all his routines with his wristwatch. Every day is like the one before it with no deviation.
Until one day he hears a voice in his head, omnisciently narrating his life.
Then, Harold’s watch stops working. He resets it using the time given by a bystander and after doing so, hears his narrator say, “Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.”
Harold slowly realizes that he is the main character in a novel — that his choices and the eventual outcome of his life are determined by someone else writing his story.
In desperation, he does everything he can to change the plot and the ending of his story, but to no avail — he is not the author.
Harold Crick is the protagonist in one of my favorite movies, Stranger than Fiction, which explores the theme of free will.
How would you feel to realize you were not the author of your own story — that your choices were determined by someone else, that you were nothing but an actor in someone else’s script?
Terrified, desperate, and infuriated, right? The thought that we cannot control our life is unbearable.
Yet how often do we act out scripts written by others, living as puppets on strings?
- Ever get angry at the man who cuts you off on the freeway? You’re letting him write your script.
- Harboring wounds from abuse that effect your perceptions and actions? You’re making your abuser the author of your story.
- Did you choose your career as an author, based on your passion and purpose, or as an actor, based on social scripts?
- Will you write the script for your routine today, or has it already been written for you?
When a fictional story doesn’t go the way we want it to, we get angry at the author.
If your life story isn’t going how you want it to, there’s only one person to blame: the author.
As Daniel Taylor says,
“Freedom is useless if we don’t exercise it as characters making choices. We are free to change the stories by which we live. Because we are genuine characters, and not mere puppets, we can choose our defining stories. We can do so because we actively participate in the creation of our stories. We are co-authors as well as characters. Few things are so encouraging as the realization that things can be different and that we have a role in making them so.”
Harold Crick could not choose his story. But let’s compare two real boys who could, one white and the other black.
The white boy was raised in a Chicago suburb by “smart, solid, encouraging, loving parents who stressed education and family.” The boy was a happy and high-performing student.
The black boy grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida. His mother abandoned him at the age of two. His father, a heavy drinker, beat him routinely with the metal end of a garden hose.
One night when the boy was eleven years old, his father beat up a lady friend in the kitchen. He hit her so hard some of her teeth flew out and landed at the boy’s feet.
After his father was convicted of rape, he was left to fend for himself at the age of twelve, and by his teens had became a full-fledged gangster, carrying a gun, selling drugs, mugging people.
From those details, how would you guess their stories ended?
The second child, the black gangster, is Roland G. Fryer, Jr., now a Harvard economist.
The white child also attended Harvard. But soon after, his story took a turn for the worse. His name is Ted Kaczynski — the man we know as the Unabomber.
How will your story end? And who is writing it?
*The stories of Roland Fryer and Ted Kaczynski are taken from the book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt.