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Amor Fati

tags: stoicism 

Amor fati is a Latin phrase that means “love of fate.” It’s a concept of virtue that we inherit from the ancient Stoics, though we can probably thank Friedrich Nietzsche for the Latin phrase and for its presence in modern discussion1.

The idea isn’t original with Nietzsche. It appears in the writings of Marcus Aurelius2—though not in so many words—and in Epictetus3 before him.

It’s not obvious at first glance what it’s supposed to mean. “Love of fate?” Are we supposed to conceive of Fate as some sort of god and worship it? Are we being asked to bow down to whatever random occurrence comes along?

Not quite. The ancient Stoics regarded love of fate as a virtue, and I agree, but I mean something particular by both love and fate.

By love, I mean caring for something, studying it, understanding it, cultivating it. I mean a deliberate and purposeful act of learning, nurturing, and improvement.

I do not mean a feeling of affection, or the moment of joy you might derive from a pleasing experience. I don’t mean a feeling at all.

A perfect example of this kind of love is caring for your children. That labor may from time to time offer you a warm glow of pleasure, and you might call that feeling “love,” but that’s not what I mean. I mean the care you take to nurture and cultivate your children, regardless of how you feel about it in the moment. I mean the choice that you deliberately make to care for them even when you feel vexed and frustrated. That kind of love isn’t about how you feel. It’s about what you choose to do. That kind of love is what tells you that you’re wrong when you let your feelings of vexation dictate what you do.

That love is not a feeling; it’s a deliberate course of action.

By fate, I mean the sum of your life from beginning to end. I mean the situation into which you were born, the options offered to you by fortune and circumstance, and the unfolding of all the consequences of your choices, good and bad, foreseen and unforeseen. I mean, in terms familiar to the ancient Romans and Greeks, the thread that the Fates spin for you, the length of it that they measure, and the cut they make that finally ends it.

I do not mean predestination or fortune.

Your fate in this sense is all that you are, and have been, and will be. It includes everything you choose to be and do, and everything that you don’t. It’s the circumstances that led to your birth, and the situations you find yourself in. It’s the choices you make and their consequences, both foreseen and unforeseen. It’s everything that is up to you, and equally important, everything that isn’t. It’s all you know of your existence, and all you don’t, and everything you will never know.

Love of fate means properly caring for the sum of your existence.

To love your fate means to see and understand that it’s all that you are, and have been, and will ever be. It’s realizing that its care and cultivation are in your hands and no one else’s. It’s resolving to accept it as it is, understand it, and care for it just as you would a loved one—not because it’s without flaw, not because it’s everything you ever wanted, but because it’s everything you are.

The reward for loving your fate is not something that you wait to collect at the end. The reward is in the act of cultivation itself. It’s manifest in the care that you take in this moment and pay forward to every moment that follows. In caring for your fate, everything you give, you also receive. Once it’s given, it’s always with you. You will never be without it again. Choose wisely.

Not loving our fate means that we make war upon it, upon ourselves. Not learning ourselves, we cannot know how to properly care for ourselves. We’re as likely to harm ourselves as not. Not caring for ourselves, we fall into suffering and delusion. We grow lost. We rob ourselves of the cultivation that might have nurtured us. We lose the opportunity to collaborate with a future self made stronger and wiser by good care.

It’s sometimes hard to love your fate. No one’s fate is all puppy dogs and rainbows. Fortune offers us, not what we wish for, but a little bit of this and a little bit of that, chosen according to its whims, not ours. For every great job offer, there’s a disaster in the wings. For every accomplishment, a tragedy. In bad times it can be hard to see past the suffering of the moment. A moment of good feeling may be all we want, and we may be willing to do nearly anything to get it.

That’s fine, as far as it goes, but a good feeling is only a good feeling. Like any feeling it comes and then it goes, and the whole time you’re right were you were to begin with. If you want something better, you’ll have to build it. It doesn’t matter how bruised and battered you are in the moment, if you want something better, you’ll have to cultivate it.

Your fate is endless—or it might as well be. It lasts as long as you last, and when it ends, you end with it. You’re always in it, whether you pay attention to it or not. You can ignore it and wander from joy to despair, at the mercy of fortune, or you can learn to love your fate. You can acquaint yourself with it, come to know it, accept it, care for it. You can nurture it and offer it to your future self. You can accept that gift gratefully and pay it forward it again. You can forge alliances with better future selves that will exist only if you cultivate them now, and with all the alliances that those better selves can make in turn.

But you have to care for your fate. You have to accept it for what it is, and was, and will be. You have to learn it and understand it. You have to love it, in the way that you love your children.

Amor fati.

1 Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, “Why I am So Clever,” Section 10

2 Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, IV.23

3 Epictetus, Enchiridion, VIII