November 8, 2010
One of the phrases I heard often during the emotional events of the past few years is “Things happen for a reason.” The other night while Clarke and I were watching a reality show one of the contestants spoke the same phrase as she predicted elimination from the show.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” she said.
“No they don’t!” I reflexively argued with the screen.
“Why does that make you so upset?” Clarke asked.
“Because it’s just a way that this woman is rationalizing why this bad thing— elimination from a contest she’s competing in— is okay. She’s trying to tell herself that things really aren’t as bad as they are. She’s trying to console herself that there is a purpose in her suffering… that it will lead to something bigger and better, and that is just not necessarily the case.” I said.
I don’t think things happen for a reason and I find it unsettling when people want to tell me that cancer, or my mother-in-law’s death, or anything that has been a challenge has happened as part of some grand plan for something better.
I just don’t believe it. And I don’t want you to believe it about my life, either.
I think things just happen — and when they do, you have to decide how you are going to handle them. Those actions, those responses, can teach you lessons, but they are lessons you teach yourself. You can grow, get stronger, do something that you otherwise never would have. Alternatively, you might learn that you made a mistake and should deal with a situation differently the next time it comes up.
Don’t give away the credit.
Don’t minimize the hurt or disappointment.
Don’t rationalize why it isn’t as a big a deal as it is.
There isn’t necessarily a purpose in suffering; it’s not part of a causal narrative that “passing the test” will get you to the next step. You make your own tests, you find your own lessons. But using the word reason implies that it was given to you, designed for you.
And I just don’t believe that.