No, Everything Doesn’t Happen for a Reason

No, Everything Doesn’t Happen for a Reason November 2, 2015

Tim Lawrence writes at some length about what I consider one of the most irritating phrases in the English language: “Everything happens for a reason.” My response to hearing someone say that ranges from eye rolling to rage, depending on what they’re talking about. Lawrence takes his opposition to this platitude a lot further than I would, saying that you should remove those who say it from your life:

You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.

No, that’s going entirely too far. Most people say this reflexively, almost mindlessly, without giving any thought to the implications of it. It’s just a platitude repeated because it makes them feel better and they assume it does the same for others.

I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence

I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became “successful” because I “took responsibility.”

My real problem with it is twofold. First, it’s just plain false. Secondly, if it were true it would be absolutely appalling to me. Someone suffers a terrible tragedy, or for that matter a huge blessing, and they or someone else says “everything happens for a reason.” Think about that. That means that someone meant for it to happen, in fact they made it happen. Some willful force outside yourself — God, to most people — decided that this person should get cancer, or become paralyzed in a car accident, or suffer a miscarriage, while this other person will be born into a family of billionaires, or be a piano prodigy, or live a long, peaceful life without any want or injury.

I simply don’t understand how anyone finds that idea comforting. It means we are at the whim of some force we have no power over, that some deity is inflicting the most horrifying pain on some people and wealth and happiness on others. How does this make someone feel better, safer, more at peace with reality? Even if such a being did exist, I would not worship it. Everything in me screams out against it.

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