Fatalism In Appalachia


Numerous studies are available about fatalism in Appalachia. A few I’ve read, indicate the first Scots-Irish settlers of Appalachia brought their fatalistic outlook with them, then passed it on to future generations. Others infer the sometimes dim outlook of Appalachians is directly related to their isolated lives and the difficult circumstances surrounding them. I personally believe, it’s a little bit of both.

It is hard to reconcile fatalism with the hard working, life loving people of my heritage. And I’ve truly questioned whether it is a true Appalachian trait or not. I’m certainly not a scholar on Appalachia or anything else for that matter. I can only make a judgment from my experiences and what I’ve witnessed during my life in Appalachia.

All of which lead me to believe fatalism is a trait of native Appalachians. I do not believe folks are running around looking for a cliff to jump off-but more of a “work while you can, cause a day is coming when no man shall be able to work” way of thinking.

I once shared with a close friend that sometimes I question my own compassion about life-often having the attitude “what you want in life and what you get are usually 2 entirely different things.” She said she didn’t think it was a matter of me being cold hearted, but a mechanism of survival.

The conversation with my friend, helped me see fatalism as a precautionary way of living. In other words, don’t get your hopes up to high and you won’t be disappointed. One Appalachian saying that comes to mind portrays this: Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. In other words-if things keep going as good as they are we just might make it. I often hear myself telling people “if nothing happens I’ll be there” well what do I think is going to happen? I don’t know. But I do know-you never know what life is going to throw at you next.

Today I have a special treat for the Pickin’ & Grinnin’ In The Kitchen Spot. A song written by Paul-one of my favorites he has written-it’s right up there with Down The Escalante. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now-it’s a song with a fatalistic theme to it.

Hope you enjoyed all that great flat top picking-and the song.

How about you-do you think fatalism is a true trait of Appalachians or not?


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  • Reply
    April 1, 2010 at 11:15 am

    My grandmother always said “Lord Willing” whenever she talked about the future. I always just thought it was a southern thing but then I saw this…
    James 4:13-15 – Now listen to me, you that say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money.” You don’t even know what your life tomorrow will be!. What you should say is this, “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.”
    The other main thing I remember was how the adults were consumed with worry. Any activity, no matter how seemingly harmless, they believed could bring great danger. I’m sometimes very glad my parents moved away, or else I still might not be allowed to get my driver’s license or go to the movies with my friends.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    The Appalachian character is hard to draw a bead on. Fatalistic? Maybe, as a form of psychological self-defense. I think life has always been particularly challenging for us. But what cultural group is more joyous and grateful when things are good? Another saying I was raised on here in northern Appalacia, “Don’t borrow trouble.” Seems to assume we’ll all have plenty of our own.

  • Reply
    trisha too
    October 21, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    you never do know what’s going to happen! wow, woman, I can testify to that one! and believe me, we may as well not let things bother
    us overmuch, because we can do what we can, and that’s it.
    there’s a fine line between being realistic and being fatalistic.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    October 19, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    I don’t see it as fatalistic, but as realistic. Stuff happens; we never know what might be coming our way–good and bad are both surprises. But I’d rather be of the mindset that accepts unexpected change than to be caught unaware all the time. I’m just a practical person.

  • Reply
    October 19, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    I was brought up the same way. God willing and the creek don’t rise kind of outlook on life. I think it helps us who have struggled throughout our lives survive because no matter what happens, we go with the flow and accept that it is just part of life.
    Enjoyed the pickin’ and singin’ as always.
    Blessings for a great week.

  • Reply
    October 19, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    I think it depends on how tired I am!!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Congratulations Lacy. It is a very cute spider and web. 🙂
    Tipper, that is a good question. I don’t think fatalism is a trait of mine and I have no idea if it is a true trait of Appalachians.

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    October 19, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Please tell Pap and Paul that song was hauntingly beautiful to me. I really connected with it.
    I was raised a country girl with my roots deeply buried. I remember telling you that my Grandad was a Scotsman and my Grandmom was a Creek Indian maid. I don’t find it fatal to be who I am, even if I WAS displaced to city life.
    I make my way with a solid foundation cemented in my heart of people who were rich getting their hands dirty and overcoming any obstacle put in front of them.
    My motto is: If you want to go further don’t wait for me … go with my blessing. I need go no futher than God takes me and happy to be so.
    If I had married, my other motto was: You make the living and I’ll make the living worthwhile. xxoo

  • Reply
    Jennifer in OR
    October 19, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I never considered whether this was an Appalachian trait. But I have it, through my Appalachian father. Hmm, you’ve got me thinking. So, I can blame it on Appalachia? 🙂

  • Reply
    noble pig
    October 19, 2008 at 11:09 am

    I love those old photos.

  • Reply
    October 19, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Your post makes me think of the relationship between fatalism and realism. The difference seems to be the ability to smile along the way.

  • Reply
    October 19, 2008 at 10:01 am

    I think rural people everywhere have a certain amount of that same fatalism…when you live in and work with nature so much can go wrong over which you have no control at all. It is a great teacher….wonderful post!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2008 at 1:40 am

    Though I’ve lived most of my life in Texas, I was born and raised for 14 years in Oklahoma, so much of what I recall hearing as a child was from my relatives there. I do remember various Okie relatives using that same saying,
    “Lord willing, if the creek don’t rise”.
    I don’t recall ever thinking that my family (extended and immediate) had a fatalistic attitude about life; pragmatic, but not fatalistic.

  • Reply
    October 18, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    I remember being confused as a child when my great-grandmother would say about a newborn, “Poor little thing, born into this cruel old world.” And when someone died, she’d say, “Good for them!” I always thought she was kooky, but then she had lost one child at birth and her husband to a train. Life was hard and we’ve learned that we are not in control. Perhaps “God-willing…” is a comforting thought instead of a fatalistic one!

  • Reply
    Amy @ parkcitygirl
    October 18, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    I am thankful for each new day & enjoy watching it unfold before – you never know what could come about! Great song Paul 🙂

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    October 18, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Tipper! Much reflection went into this post. For most of us, it’s a lifetime’s worth. In my humble opinion, no matter where you’re from, worrying or having a fatalistic attitude is not an uncommon human trait. Most struggle. I have maintained a “live in the now” attitude; to enjoy the present to its fullest. Tomorrow is full of hope and promise. But can understand the power of fear.
    p.s. Paul and your father are just so sublime! Have a wonderful weekend, Tipper!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 18, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Lot of food for thought in this post, Tipper. I was listening to a tape recently that talked about how most of us expect the worst most of the time. It suggested that we learn to see the world as a “benevolent universe”, out to bring great and wonderful surprises to us each day. I’ve tried to work with that. When I succeed in the benevolent universe attitude my days seem better.
    Great song, I love to listen to Pap and Paul!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    I grew up with “God willing and the creek don’t rise” ~ now I just say “God-wiling”. I’ve never thought it fatalistic, though. I’ve always felt it was a recognition that everything was in God’s hands, not ours, so we should remember to rely on God. It seemed only logical in our US society that “and the creek don’t rise” would be in there, you know, just to make sure we kept a clear separation of Church and State! 🙂
    In Spanish there are 2 phrases: “si Dios quiere” which means “if God wishes” is used as a response to “see you tomorrow”; “gracias a Dios” meaning “thanks be to God” is always added to “very well” when someone asks how you or anyone else is doing. EVERYTHING is credited to God and those two phrases are used more than probably any other.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    I always equated that attitude with my grandparents growing up in a rural, hardworking, poverty stricken environment. They had seen how hard life could be and knew that things could change at any moment.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    October 17, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    “Or is it a trait of yours?”
    ‘Fraid so…..and I wish it were not.
    And to be really honest, I hadn’t comprehended/connected that the specific word “fatalism” could describe one of my traits….and I really.wish.it.did.not.
    I think I view it/prefer it as being “realistic” because I think that sounds more positive…lol

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    Good Lord willin and the creek don’t rise…I’ve heard it all my life.,,in the foothills and piedmont so I think it’s more Scots-Irish than Appalachian or perhaps more from coming up poor.
    Also, my favorite… “it is what it is”.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    As for me on this subject, I just think one should enjoy everything and everyone with each day they are given. We are never promised tomorrow. So enjoyed the pictures, the words and the music. blessings,Kathleen

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Wow, I hear that all the time, too. I think it’s a combination of things: poverty, rural lifestyle and Christian faith.
    How neat, my husband called his daddy pap. 🙂
    I haven’t watched the video, yet. I have “dreaded dial up” too.

  • Reply
    City Mouse/Country House
    October 17, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    It’s an interesting topic. One, I suspect, that is very hard for us to understand nowdays, with all of our connectivity. It would be hard for us to grasp the whole isolation factor. Personally, I believe that we each have something great in is, and are responsible for developing it, and for being of some service to the world.

  • Reply
    The Tile Lady-Marie
    October 17, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    This was a great post, and really food for thought for me…I am not a fatalistic person, though I am from n AL. But where I am from isn’t in Appalachia, but farther south. However, my husband has always been considered very stoic. In fact, if you look up stoic in the dictionary….(you get the picture!) And it was about him that your post raised some interest for me. You see, my husband’s mother was born and lived as a small child in the foothills and rolling mountains just south of the Tennessee River, in an area of north AL called Bean Rock. It is an area rich in Scots-Irish people and though I haven’t proved it yet, I am certain her family is of Scottish stock–their name was Smith. The stories I have heard about my mother-in-law’s family are fascinating. They were quiet, keep-to-themselves people with fiery tempers when you crossed them, but loving and giving to their own family and to neighbors. My mother-in-law reputedly cut her teeth on an empty revolver. Her uncle accidently shot and killed his wife while aiming at her lover and went to prison for it. No one was more loving, kind and sweet than my husband’s mother, Mary, but she was also stubborn as the day was long, and full of spit and vinegar when riled. My husband is stubborn to a fault, and so is our daughter. In fact, she is so much like her Grandmother Mary it is uncanny. The stoicism I have always seen in my husband. But,fatalism, I am not sure of. They are very closely related. He doesn’t worry when you’re out too long, for instance. He feels like if something bad happened to you, he’ll hear about it, and there is no use in worrying when you don’t know one way or the other. And he expects you not to worry about HIM (and since he has no sense of time, this is a hard one to do!) I am a born worry-wort. But, he just feels like what will happen will happen, and worry just expends energy. So, is that fatalism? If it is, he was given a HUGE dose! And since he wasn’t raised in Appalachia, but got this from his mother and his grandfather, etc. I am going to say it is a genetic thing, and very likely a Scots-Irish thing. It has to be!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    You can’t be to fatalistic because, every now and then even a blind pig’ll find an akern….
    although around here we use the squirrel nut thing…
    -wkf aka the Glass is half full

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.” I can’t say how many times I’ve heard that…or said it myself. We Appalachians are a bit cautious. I don’t think we are pessimistic, necessarily, just realistic. Life in Appalachia has been mostly hard for the history of the place.
    I also think that is why we have so many beloved hymns that focus on heaven and the beauty of the life hereafter. Perhaps it is why we don’t always get ahead, because we are focused on whatever is coming after death.
    Whatever the case, I love even that characteristic about my people. So, Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be back to comment next week 🙂

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Me? Really? Oh my goodness! I’ve never won ANYTHING before! I am so pumped! Oh my word!
    I’ll email you my address.
    Blessings and thanks!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Paul and Pap sound so great together. The fatalistic attitude was in my family (mostly from my mothers side) as well. It is something I have had to work very hard at to overcome.

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    October 17, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Congratulations, Lacy!
    I don’t know if that is an Appalachian trait or a rural trait. We have that creek rising comment, too. I say it myself. I think it comes from hard times and not knowing what to expect next, but knowing that it could change everything.
    And Lord knows, it’s always something!

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    October 17, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Tipper: Certainly a subject with which I don’t relate.
    Tell Pap and Paul that was some really neat picken in the kitchen. It’s wonderful that they can both write songs and music.

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