Column: It happened for a reason

aofie manley

By Aoife Manley

When something incomprehensibly awful happens, it can be tempting to believe that serendipitous forces are orchestrating the happenings of the universe; that an unknown power is pulling puppet strings and strategically scripting the progression of our lives.

Relief can be found from justifying that what is causing us so much pain is perhaps a pivotal moment in bringing us closer toward some predetermined ‘destiny,’ or allowing us to fulfill a higher purpose. It may be fact or fiction, but there is a pervasive belief that transcends generations and is advocated for by multiple religions: Things happen for a reason.

I am not a believer in destiny, nor an advocate for the concept of ‘fate.’ I cannot bring myself to indulge in this comforting idea that events which bring us sorrow are simply a necessary step toward realizing greater joy. Its appeal, however, is universally understandable. More than anything, it is an acceptance mechanism that allows us to disregard the injustice of the world and move on.

We struggle with the reality that once something has happened, we have no power to change it; history is written in indelible ink, and that no quantity of tears can wash it away. It is often the recognition of this powerlessness that leads us to seek comfort in the golden concept of A Reason — the idea that all bad will eventually be revealed as an unequivocal stepping stone toward something of greater importance. However, the reality is that we live without the privilege of perfect information and have no idea what certain happenings might trigger in the future.

Awful things happen, and they happen with a frequency that is hard to accept. In our society of meritocracy, we can feel as though they are undeserved. However, as much as we may hate to accept it, circumstance is blindly allocated.

Although I don’t believe in a ‘reason,’ it is true that facing adverse circumstances may enable us to better face them in the future. It is almost an inevitable that we will face further hardships and struggles, and therefore, perhaps some small semblance of good is derived in an increased ability to weather storms. However, had we the choice, often we would deem the price demanded too high to pay for better resilience.

Terrible things that happen might not be inherently accompanied by a ‘reason’ or justified by some greater positive outcome. They are often just plain terrible. However, it is important to recognize that in this particular equation, we are the only variable we have control over. It is our response to adversity that defines what happens next; whether some good can be salvaged from the scrapyard. We must attempt to derive what good we can from a situation; to accept the terms of a new game, and to learn how to win under these refreshed rules.

Put simply, our ability to effect the past is non-existent. But we can change both how we feel about it, and attempt to influence what happens in the future. Whether or not there is a ‘reason’ is irrelevant, what matters is our ability to leverage the little control we have in an expansive uncertainty.

The only thing we can be certain of? Things happen. Period.


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