In the News: Wildly irresponsible predictions

The people that go to fortune tellers trust fortune tellers. That’s why they go to them.

Of course, anyone (and their mum) can get a cup and some tea leaves, so you wind up with a lot of potentially well-meaning people making wildly irresponsible predictions. Whether they’re absolutely genuine in their intentions, but haven’t stopped to think of the consequences of their words, or they’re using the authority of ‘mystic powers’ to try to manipulate their clients (for good or ill), it really doesn’t matter. The result is the same. People get hurt. 

This discussion was prompted by this article from August 2017 – it’s an example of fortune telling so irresponsible that it’s difficult not to call it malicious. I think it’s important to examine these particularly egregious examples, because they really hammer home just how dangerous poorly chosen words can be.

Just in case the article disappears from the internet, here’s an overview: a man’s auntie (I’m calling her ‘auntie’ for the sake of simplicity. The article says female relative. Could be a sister, mother, cousin, etc.) told him that he and his wife would be together forever, but his wife is going to cheat on him at some unspecified point in the future.

He’s understandably ‘gutted’ by this. It really upsets him. According to the story, the man chose to stay with his wife. So, perhaps he’s decided to forgive her for her potential transgression – that’s nice. But, he will carry the knowledge that his wife is going to cheat on him in his heart until the day he dies.

A feeling of betrayal that deep is likely to cause the man to become distant and emotionally unavailable. That’s understandable too: it’s a hurt that he can never get over because it hasn’t even happened yet. He’s living in constant anticipation of pain.

If that emotional distance isn’t enough to drive his wife to infidelity by itself, it’s not hard to imagine this man beginning to deliberately treat his wife in such a way that she’s driven to seek out solace in others, just so he can get the pain over sooner, like tearing off a band-aid.

He could make this prophecy fulfil itself.

To make matters worse, the man told his wife about the prophecy, so now she’s plagued by guilt for something she hasn’t done yet, and may never do.

She’s so plagued by guilt that she says she’s considering trying for another child, because that same fortune-teller told her husband that they wouldn’t have any more kids. Her reasoning is that, if she has another baby, it will disprove all the auntie’s prophecies. This woman is so plagued by guilt that she wrote the article we’re currently discussing in order to justify her reasons for having another child to the entire world.

That’s not healthy.

The author (the wife) says that they both ‘don’t really believe in this stuff’ – but that statement feels like an attempt to deflect sceptics who like to send condescending emails. If the pair didn’t believe in it, why would it have shaken them both so badly? The man would have laughed the prophecy off, he wouldn’t have been ‘gutted’. The wife would have laughed too, when the husband told her, and wouldn’t be thinking of having more kids just to disprove it.

They believe this. They’re hurting because of this.

This entire scenario could have been avoided if the auntie had the humility to speak about ‘possibilities’ rather than the hubris to speak in absolutes.

Absolutes should be anathema to any good fortune teller.

This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, when the auntie says ‘your wife WILL cheat on you,’ she leaves no room for error. But, the auntie is human. And humans are prone to error. So what are the chances that she’s mistaken? There are so many ways a fortune like this could have been misread:

  • The husband could have been the one who was going to have a bit of a dalliance with someone he shouldn’t.
  • The prophecy may have been a misread warning that the husband needed to be more communicative/loving/honest.
  • The cards might be giving the husband snark about his (lack of) skills in the bedroom.
  • The auntie might be seeing ‘infidelity’ when she should be seeing ‘open relationship’, but she’s too narrow minded to understand that the pair will both be totally into it.

That’s assuming the prophecy isn’t totally bunk from start to finish.

Secondly, absolutes imply that destiny is set in stone. If that were the case, then the entire point of telling fortunes would be rendered moot.

Why would you go to a fortune teller to ask if the man you’re interested in is the one you should marry if you didn’t think you had a choice? If destiny is set, then you either will or won’t, and knowing he’s the right one in advance can only serve to make you feel worse about the whole thing is he’s not the right one.

Why would you ask a fortune teller if it’s a good idea to take a chance on a new job, or if now is the time to seek a promotion at work? These questions are meaningless unless you have the free will to act on the advice.

Sure, sometimes the bad thing that was predicted will come to pass even though you try to avoid it, but that doesn’t mean that that future was always going to come to pass. You might have missed the chance to escape it, or failed to act on the warning you were given.

Thirdly, because she spoke with the authority of a mystic and used absolutes, the man hasn’t been given the option of making his own choices. She’s taken his agency away. The story said that the man chose to stay with his wife, and I suggested that it could be because he’s chosen to forgive her – but what if he honestly thinks he can’t leave her? The prophecy said he would stay with his wife forever. So perhaps he thinks he’s trapped in the relationship, even though staying is going to be endless torture. He feels like he’s forced into waiting for his betrayal.

If he left her, it would immediately prove the prophecy wrong, and the torture would end. It could help the man find relief. That’s a pretty drastic move to make just to debunk a rubbish fortune. But so is considering having another child. That brings another innocent life into this pointless tangle of strife, and there’s no guarantee that that child will be enough to fit it. Damage has been done. It’s up to the couple to find ways to heal. They might not be able to do it.

If he does choose to leave, what is the wife going to feel, knowing her husband trusted her so little that he left her on the word of some aunt who claimed to be able to tell the future? That’s not good for your self esteem. That wound is going to be raw for a very long time. No matter what, there’s going to be pain there.

I think the reason that this story bothers me so much is that the whole scenario is so senseless. If the aunt had any kind of self awareness, she’d have realised that her clumsy, thoughtless prophecy would hurt far more than it helped. A  good fortune teller chooses their words carefully, and tries their best not to manifest bad futures for their clients, because they know their words could have a very serious impact on their clients’ lives. A good fortune teller helps their client avoid the pitfalls that await them, instead of setting them up to fail. A good fortune teller stares down a bad reading and tells the client ‘be careful, be wary, this is a warning of what might happen if you’re not.’ That way, when the client walks away, they’re more prepared for what the world has in store for them. Not terrified of pain to come.

We can all learn from this reading, and what it did to this couple. Even if we never would have done a reading like that, it remains valuable to see just how much damage that kind of reading can do. It reminds us of our responsibilities to the people we read for. It reminds us to be acutely aware of the way we speak when we read for people.


May the cards fall in your favour,

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