Does Everything Really Happen for a Reason?

Everything happens for a reason….

It’s one of those phrases we use when we don’t know what else to say, when someone we care about or we ourselves have landed in an enormous pile of trouble with no apparent way out of it.

And we don’t mean it in terms of “You had that heart-attack because you’ve eaten nothing but cheeseburgers for the past twenty years and you smoke like a fiend.”  We mean it in terms of  “The Universe/The Baby Jesus/That Which We Cannot Name But Which We Fervently Hope Has Some Kind of Influence Over What’s Happening Down Here” will be sending something nice your way any minute now.  Head tilt.  Smile.

We say it when someone loses their job and on their way home from picking up their final paycheque and paperwork finds a lost kitten to bring home and love.  See?  Head tilt.  Smile.  Everything happens for a reason.  Because, of course, if you hadn’t lost your job, someone else would have found the kitten and you’d still have a job and doesn’t The Universe work in mysterious ways?

The problem I have with this is that it’s so passive.  Craps happens, but if you just sit back and hope, well, the baby Jesus will be fixing you up in no time.

It’s passive and it gives no credit to people for the enormous effort they put in to turning a bad situation around and making something decent of their lives.  For instance, (to choose a purely random, yet deeply personal example) Alan and I wanted, but were not able to have children.  Bit of a set-back, that.  But through the years, we looked around for what else we could do.  We accepted challenges and adventures that came our way.   We deepened our relationships with each other, with our friends and with our nieces and nephews (who are the best bunch of people you’d ever want to meet).

So people look at our lives as it is now, compared to how we thought it would be and say, “Seeeeee? Everything happens for a reason!”  Head tilt.  Smile.

Um. No.

When I was really little, I thought that trees made the wind.  It was an easy mistake to make.  I’d feel a breeze, look up to see the trees moving and confuse cause and effect.  My parents kindly chose to call me whimsical.

And I think the Everything Happens for a Reason belief is the same confusing of cause and effect.  People work and struggle and make something great out of adversity.  And we mistakenly think it was the adversity that caused the greatness, when in reality, it was the person all along.

So what’s a better thing to say?  Well, when someone’s in the midst of their difficulties,  a heart-felt “I’m so sorry!” lets them know you care.

And when they finally triumph, as you knew all along they would a simple “Good for you!  I knew you could do it” will do nicely, possibly accompanied by a bottle of champagne.

You can skip the head tilt entirely.

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22 Responses to Does Everything Really Happen for a Reason?

  1. Kim says:

    I think impassivity is strictly on a by-person basis. Some get motivated and seek out the reason on their own while others do sit and wait for the mail lady to deliver “the reason” to their doorstep.

    and…I don’t think all people would achieve the greatness if they hadn’t had the adversity. Adversity can have a huge impact on who we are, and we may have otherwise been wishy-washy and passive and never done much of anything. Some need the adverse kick in the ass to make the changes in themselves that allow them to indeed do something great; others would have achieved greatness no matter what.

    Now I will smile and tilt my head 🙂

    • Barb McMahon says:

      OK, I deserved that one…

      But do you believe that the kick in the ass comes because we need it or because it just happens and then each person makes of it what they will?

  2. Yes! Thanks for putting this into words so clearly.

    Also, to pick up your kitten example, what happens if the kitten runs away the next day? There goes the Meaning of the job loss, as well as the adorable new pet.

    I struggle with not seeing it as personal failing when things don’t go as I planned. Believing “It All Happens For a Reason” hasn’t worked for me. I’m currently looking for a balance between “Stuff Just Happens” and keeping a positive attitude.

    Glad to see you blogging again!

    • Barb McMahon says:

      Thanks Sonia!

      If it helps – the more I accept that sometimes “Stuff Just Happens” the more positive I can be when it actually does. And, therefore, I’m more able to make something good out of that stuff.

  3. corine says:

    oh yeah, that is some B.S.

  4. Sandy says:

    There’s also the occasion where the adversity drops you like a rock and coming out of it breathing in and out is a triumph of its own. No reason, no ‘lesson’ ~ just “holy fuck I can’t believe I’m still alive”. Those are not my favourite.

    • Barb McMahon says:

      Not my favourite, either. But you might as well celebrate the triumph of breathing in and out, list it among your accomplishments and be proud of yourself for it.

  5. Lynn says:

    Thank you; very well put. I’m putting together some of my own thoughts on this topic, and I’ll link back to you if/when I publish.

  6. Barb McMahon says:

    I’m looking forward to it, Lynn!

  7. Shana says:

    This post just made me smile because it is oh-so-true. This post is level headed and logical and after the day I’ve had hearing a little logic brings joy to my heart. I will never use the phrase “everything happens for a reason” again. Thank you.

    • Barb McMahon says:

      Thank you Shana. Hope today was better!

      • Sonny says:

        #28 Je gaat ervanuit dat Homo’s vallen op haatbaarden zoals ik. Ik ben Marokkaan, ik sta dus bekend als po#nerammer&t8230; Als je dus niet weer in de krant wilt lezen dat er een homo afgetuigd is, dan moet die homo vooral uit mijn buurt blijven.(uit het bovenste kun je concluderen dat mannen in staat zijn zich fysiek te beschermen en vrouwen in mindere mate)

  8. Jayne says:

    This is why we are friends, Barb. You’re not afraid of the truth. Not only is it a silly (and untrue) space filler that’s used when we are uncomfortable, but it is hurtful. The friend in need has not only been hit with awful luck, but they then get dismissed by people who, in stead, should be feeling some empathy and giving support. Even if there is nothing else to be done but to commiserate, it is better than to be dismissed.

  9. Barb McMahon says:

    But somehow, we feel that commiserating isn’t good enough. So if we can’t fix something, at least we can try to explain it. The powerlessness of being with someone in times of trouble is really scary, but oh, so necessary.

    I’m glad we’re friends, Jayne!

  10. Lou says:

    Love, Love, Love your mindset and point of view. Philosophical and practical together. You rock!

  11. Barb McMahon says:

    Thanks Lou! What a great compliment! sigh….

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