Fortunes Are In Our Hands

Man knows more than he understands.

One thing I knew for sure after the satisfying meal at a local Chinese buffet – that was NOT a fortune. The missive was all too true, but it did not tell me what was going to happen to me tomorrow, next year or in a decade. It did not provide any hints as to what I might do to make the best happen. There was, in short, no foretelling of anything.

Image of "fortune" from cookie.
Image of “fortune” from cookie that’s really just good advice. It was actually an “advice cookie.”

Whenever I crack that cookie, I’m looking for something like, “The next person you meet will have a major impact on your life,” or “Do every little thing well and your rewards will be great,” or “Unimaginable fortune is coming your way.” Instead, I get –

You are perceptive and considerate when dealing with others.
OK. That’s how I’d like to be all the time, but…

What is “right”? How do you define “right”? How do you define “left”?
This one is little more than aplayground attempt at deep thought..

The sky seems small if it is looked at from the bottom of the well.
You can almost smell the wildflowers as the guru at the top of the mountain dispenses this wisdom. Made me think, and I love the message I got out of it: we need to climb out of the muck of everyday existence before we can begin fulfilling dreams. But is it a fortune? No.

You can’t go far in a boat without any oars.
More wisdom. Always make sure you’re prepared and have the means for getting where you want to go in your career, your life and with your family. Love it, but it’s not a real fortune.

Fear drives you and makes you better.
I’m not quite sure what to call this one. Insight, maybe. I totally agree that fear is a strong motivator, but it doesn’t work for everyone. And I’m sad for those who set themselves up for lifetimes of fear-based motivation.

Help people reach their full potential. Catch them doing something right.
Exceptional advice, that, and you’ll find it in a multitude of parenting and business leadership books. Too bad the mysterious fortune writers didn’t rephrase it, go out on a limb to deliver a true fortune: “By catching someone doing something right, you’ll help them reach their full potential.”

Good stuff, some of those “fortunes,” but I’m still disappointed. And I’m not alone. There’s an entire Facebook page – Fortune Cookies Should Tell Fortunes Not Statements – for those who want fortunes rather than advice, insight or wisdom. These people are not happy. Their displeasure is underscored by a story on yahoo.com, where Patricia Cook asks, “What Ever Happened to Fortune Cookie Fortunes?”

Great question.

I turned to Google and found a piece by Karina Martinez-Carter. In her blog post, “Who Writes the Messages in Fortune Cookies,” she shared that Wonton Food, Inc., is the largest fortune cookie and fortune cookie message manufacturer in the world. “Wonton Food ships between 4.5 million and 5 million cookies per day to restaurants and chains,” she wrote.

Five million! Every day! Holy Cow! Perhaps Holy Pig! would be more appropriate since we’re talking Chinese cuisine, but still. Wow. Even if they insert duplicate statements into hundreds of cookies, it’s still an unfathomable number of ideas they have to come up with every day. I wouldn’t want that kind of pressure.

Which brings me to the fortune from another cookie:

Good work, good life, good love, good-bye oppression.
If you do good work that you enjoy, if you live a good life, always do your best and be your best to those around you, and if you love loyally and totally, you will remove the weight of unnecessary concern from your shoulders. Wisdom, for sure.

Get rid of the pressure, the fortune said to me. Chill the heck out.

“Man knows more than he understands” immediately brought to mind the lyrics in “Say Hey (I Love You)” by Michael Franti & Spearhead. “Seems like everywhere I go / the more I see the less I know.” The world is huge, and we perceive very little of what’s in it, let alone understand what makes it tick. The farther we explore, the more we experience and the longer we live, the more we understand not only how far we’ve come in terms of knowledge, but how vast the unknown pool really must be. For the individual and for the whole of humankind, the intertwined and complementary parts of anything are difficult to understand, the complexity sometimes overwhelming.

To think we truly know everything about anything is pure hubris, I thought as I tossed the little slip of paper into File 13. It might not have been a fortune, but it was a powerful little reminder that I’m not as smart as I think I am, and neither is anybody else, even with Google at our fingertips.

Man certainly does know more than he understands. For example, I know good work, good life and good love are keys to happiness, but I have no idea what it takes to fill 5 million cookies a day with a pithy line that relays simple truths, let alone predicts the future. Maybe, just maybe, getting people to stop and think for a second is what this world needs. Perhaps the little nudge we get from a bit of advice or insight or wisdom is the greatest fortune. After all, our fates are in our own hands.

What do you think?

Martin C. Fredricks IV logo

Author: Martin C. Fredricks IV

Martin C. “Red” Fredricks IV here. I’m husband to an amazing woman who is also my best friend, dad to three outstanding kids, proud Fargoan (North Dakota, that is), veteran messaging strategist/copywriter, blogger and big-time reader. (If you're gonna write good stuff, you have to read good stuff.) A ginger, too (ergo the "Red"). At age 50 I'm a newbie to tattoos - I have three now - but the kind artists at the parlor tell me it's never too late. I like hanging out with my best friend, who also happens to be my wife, watching the kids in their academic and athletic activities, writing, hiking and riding my mountain bike.

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