For some reason, this phrase has always struck me as odd. Authors boldly proclaim that one person’s actions changed the world, re-wrote history, changed the course — pick your meaningless phrase.
When a course is changed, it means that everything was going solidly in one direction. Everything was pointing in one way, like a freeway without an exit ramp in sight. Suddenly (and it usually is momentous and drastic), someone arrives on the scene and shakes things up, changing the entire trajectory of the world, or whatever portion of the world in which they happened to live.
It doesn’t make sense! History is something you look back on. And trajectories are not changed in hindsight.
Taken as it’s meant, though, it’s as if, had that person never come along, the world would have continued on its merry way, for all time.
That’s an awful lot of responsibility for one person to bear, isn’t it?
When something happens that causes massive upheaval to people and places, it’s natural to look at the event(s) as life-changing, where things can never be the same as they were pre-event. But to say that something “changed the course,” also implies some sort of prescience. It implies that the person, or even the natural disaster, or event, had a clue about the direction in which the world was going.
Third, the phrase also gives a lot of power to the proclaimer. The person uttering the phrase is now assumed to know, with precision, what direction the world would have taken had the event not occurred.
Even the best of us can’t predict tomorrow with that kind of certainty, never mind re-writing how yesterday may have gone if, if, if.
When I look around my home, or my office, or my city, I can be reasonably confident in a couple of things: I’ll very possibly wake up tomorrow, and being in good health and young-ish, I will very possibly continue to have use of my body and brain.
Beyond that, I know nothin’. Even that isn’t guaranteed.
Further, I can’t say with one shred of confidence that had I not had that tea yesterday, I would have gone out for a walk instead, and then who knows what could have happened! I could have happened upon a robbery in progress and saved an entire store full of people. I could have whisked a little old lady out of the way of the speeding bus, averting disaster, whereupon said old lady bequeathed me her fortune, which meant I could quit my job and finance the invention that … changed the course of history!
Hey, I love “what-ifs.” My whole life is based on what-ifs, which I use to great disadvantage during an anxiety attack. I use them to obsess over what can possibly go wrong having a depressed child. I use them to focus on all of the possibilities, evidence or not, when I consider her future, and that of my other daughter.
Hell, if I could predict the past or the future, there would be no such thing as anxiety, because I would know it all and have no unknown possibilities to fret over.
That might not be such a bad thing, and maybe then I could change the course of history.