Everything happens for a reason?

That’s a saying that Michelle likes to use a lot. We’ve had some debates over it in the past and, ironically, her boss, Reverend Dr. Derek Anderson, takes my side; he disagrees with the saying just as I do (although I haven’t sat down to talk with him about his reasons for doing so). The saying seems to imply that there’s a destiny for everybody, and the problem that many people have with that is they believe that fate is in conflict with free will. I don’t actually think that’s the case. I think it’s possible you could have people who are completely free to choose what they want to do – yet the universe is set up in such a way that the actions of everybody are still predetermined. It wouldn’t be that they are forced or compelled to do something, or that their decisions don’t matter. Think of somebody videotaping the next 10 minutes of your life and the choices you freely make. After those 10 minutes, they rewind the tape and play it back. You know exactly what’s going to happen because it’s already happened. But that doesn’t invalidate what you did at the time that the recording took place. What if the universe is like that? What if it’s already all been recorded and we’re just playing things back? Would you feel any less surprised by the way things turn out?

I’m also not sure that the saying has to imply that there’s a destiny anyway. Look at somebody playing a game of chess. They move a piece from one square to the other. The movement of that piece is “what happened” (and there’s also a reason for it having happened) – but it’s not the case that they necessarily knew, 3 moves back, that they were going to make that move; nor is it necessarily the case that they know what’s going to happen 3 moves into the future. Looking at things in that light dispenses with a set destiny, because the player is making things up as they go along, but it also challenges the idea of free will even more than the first position. (Because the piece is being moved rather than being allowed to move on its own.)

My personal opinion is that things just happen to you by chance. I think that we’re able to influence events to some degree, and our actions can cause some sets of events to be more likely to occur than others, but I don’t think that anything is a given. Nor do I believe that there is some outside, sentient force specifically governing everything that we do and making us do things towards some purpose that remains unknown to us. (I have no reason to believe that – and I would find it to be the most terrifying thing of all if it were true – because I won’t want anybody or anything directly controlling me.) Which is not to say that I don’t believe there’s some kind of positive “life force” that everything living is a part of. While I’m not going to try to articulate that here, I do believe that we are all part of the same energy and that this energy is synergistic and positive.

The above aside, though, what I really object to about this saying is (to me) its hypocrisy. People only say it when something good happens, either spontaneously (winning the lottery) or after something bad (being fired then finding a better job). I think of it as a kind of trite emotional band-aid – but one which is only applied after the fact – and one which is really just a crutch for having faith in yourself and being positive in your own right, rather than assuming that there are good things planned for you. (Ultimately, you need to be the captain of your own ship – otherwise you’re not really living, you’re just existing and going along for the ride.) The fact that it’s hypocritical seems obvious to me when nobody takes it to its logical conclusion (as an objective statement) by saying it when something bad happens. I get struck down with flesh-eating disease and am told I’m going to die by morning. Nobody is going to cheerfully tell me, “Oh, well. Everything happens for a reason!” Nor did anybody go around saying that to Holocaust survivors, or people who suffered any number of other tragedies. To actually say that, in those circumstances, would be considered the height of insensitivity. But if you can’t say it in those situations, at times when people need to feel hope more than any other time in their lives – when they’re right at the brink of despair – then what’s the use of having it has a “happy catchphrase” in the first place? Instead, in those cases, what’s normally said is, “We’ve been through bad times before, and got through them, we’ll get through this too.”

So, not only do I not actually agree with the statement in general, I don’t actually see the point in using it at all. I’d rather say, “Can’t life be amazing sometimes?”, or “I’ll never get over how connected everything is,” or “It sure is a small world,” or just, “Wow!”