It sucks right now. You’re stuck in your house. You’re running out of toilet paper. Your 401(k) is tanking. Why is this happening?
I recently mentioned the problem while working out with my personal trainer. (We’ve moved out sessions from the local gym to a field outdoors — I bring all my own equipment, and she stands six feet away and tells me what to do.)
“Well,” she said. “I don’t know. Everything happens for a reason.”
That made me angry.
What does that mean, anyway?
Why is all this stuff happening? Oh sure, there are reasons. It’s because we weren’t prepared for a pandemic. Or it’s because of an unregulated wet market in China. Or it’s because people travelled when they shouldn’t have, or because our diets make us ill prepared to fight off disease, or because . . . well, you probably have your own explanation. Because when you’re sitting in your house, grumbling, you are probably thinking of lots of reasons. We want to blame somebody.
But I don’t think that’s what “everything happens for a reason” means.
If you’re religious and you believe God works in deliberate but nonobvious ways, then “everything happens for a reason” means that there is an unseen force manipulating your life and everyone else’s. This is a trial. The Lord works in mysterious ways, but you can have faith that you will gain something from this trial you are going through.
Even if you are not religious, some people deal with adversity by seeking out the hidden meaning. You become a paraplegic so you can learn to inspire others as a public speaker. You run out of milk and invent a new nondairy cookie recipe. You are cut off from your friends and forced to stay at home with your kids, so you . . . well, you finish the sentence.
I don’t buy any of that. All those explanations are based on the idea that there is a hidden purpose in what happens to you, and if you can find the purpose, you can rise above it.
You can believe that if you want, if it makes you feel better. But I just cannot embrace it.
I don’t believe things happen for a (personal) reason. If you get cancer, you get cancer. If you get hit by a truck, marry the wrong person, get laid off from your job because of a recession, or get trapped by a global pandemic . . . my advice is not to search for the “reason” you got so unlucky.
Two questions that matter
In my world, there are only two questions that matter when you deal with misfortune.
The first is, what are you going to learn from it? There is certainly a lot to learn when shit goes wrong. People who experience misfortune and learn from it are smarter. Those who make the same mistakes repeatedly are going to suffer, and the “reason” is that they weren’t paying attention.
The second question is, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to take the time you’ve been given and learn a new skill? Are you going to find a way to reconnect with your children and how their mind’s work? Are you going to call your family and see how they are doing? Are you going to go food shopping with a mask and gloves on?
Here’s the recap: “Everything happens for a reason” = resignation and drifting with the current. Seeking reasons in random misfortune is just a way to make yourself feel better.
“What did you learn, and what are you going to do about it?” = moving forward with your life and making something out of what happened to you.
It sucks right now. We are grieving our way of life. It’s a huge pain in the ass. It may even be life threatening.
But what are you going to do about it?