Tuesday, 26 January 2010


Phrases that annoy me Part 1:

"Everything happens for a reason"

This group of words, in this particular order, touches more nerves for me than perhaps any other, due to certain experiences with which I will not bore anyone here. Quite apart from the personal nature of my objection to this trite little package of good old-fashioned hogwash, however, it has always struck me as both nonsensical, and in no way helpful in what those who use it are trying to achieve.

I know that consoling someone after something bad has happened is not easy. Pain, whether physical or psychological in nature, can not be explained away, eased by logic or overpowered by wisdom. And yet words are often the only way we can reach someone who is suffering. What can you say to someone who is upset, that they have not heard before? Very little, in most cases. The mere fact that you take time to console and be with someone is likely to be far more important to them than anything you might actually say. Words are cheap, hollow, meaningless.

This is my first, though by no means greatest objection, to the use of 'Everything happens for a reason'. Is that supposed to cheer me up?! That this is my miserable destiny and no matter how I struggle to improve my lot, some all-powerful force will decide the course of my life? That I can look forward to my hopes and dreams being merrily trampled upon by some arbitrary cosmic boot for the rest of my life? That there is little point working towards anything or making plans, because what happens to me has already been decided? Thanks a bunch.

Of course some people use 'Everything happens for a reason' to explain happy accidents and unexpected good luck, or to comment on how apparently unconnected events can spark a train of events. A little more harmless in this context I guess, but essentially carrying the same message that we are helpless; bobbing up and down in the ocean of uncertainty waiting for something nice to float our way, or to be mowed down by a passing liner, bitten in two by a tiger shark, or simply to die of exposure. Balderdashery, if ever I heard it.

I've probably made it clear by now that I don't agree with 'Everything happens for a reason'. Not only does it absolve us from any blame, or indeed credit, for things that happen, it encourages a belief that we should remain passive in the face of 'Everything', that there is no point trying to change things. Most of all, it simply isn't true. Lots of things happen for no reason at all, that is to say no thought or planning has gone into them. They are not designed to achieve anything, and whilst they may have causes, these are often entirely unconnected to any consequences. Further, even events which have been planned sometimes have consequences which were not intended.

I do believe that we each have the power to influence in some way the vast majority of events in our lives. 'Everything happens for a reason' isn't a direct contradiction of this as such, but it does tend to divert attention from our ability to decide what those reasons should be, where we should attach meaning in life, and how we view our place in the world. We all have setbacks and moments of doubt. We all make mistakes. But most of us retain a good deal of scope to decide the direction of our lives. And even where we lack the power to influence events, we never lose the power to decide how we react to them.

In summary: lots of things happen for lots of different reasons; lots of other things happen for no reason at all; as individuals we have a choice as to how we are affected.


[Jansi] Anastasia said...


Ben said...

Interesting - thanks!