Nope. It doesn’t.
Freshman year of high school I was in speech class working on a monologue about pet peeves. We each had to pick one annoyance and present it to the class. I racked my brain trying to come up with something that bothered me but nothing surfaced. I finally found one almost twenty years later.
While I have almost never directly addressed things here that piss me off, I have one that I want to share. My intention is not to make this a rant, but to point out the idiocy of the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.”
This phrase has recently slimed its way into our vernacular. It was proceeded years back by its cousin, “Well, I’m not religious but I am spiritual!” Thankfully that saying has all but disappeared. Those rebels are all grown up, married, and accompany their children to Sunday school. But there are always a few empty-calorie, narcissistic phrases that float around at any given moment. Let’s examine this one.
When do we hear about everything happening for a reason? First, by well-intentioned friends who need a space filler during a painful experience you’re sharing.
Well, my wife discovered that I was keeping two mistresses and left me. I lost the house, the kids, and custody of the parakeet.
Dude, everything happens for a reason. You’ll see.
I hope so, bro. I loved that goddamned parakeet.
The other situations where this phrase comes up is when something great happens on the heels of a terrible past event.
Son, remember the high school homecoming game where that senior ran onto the field and pulled your pants and underwear down during your tuba solo? Everyone saw your wang and then the kids in the stands started chanting “Pube-A”?
Well, I just got a call from the Music Director at Stanford who saw the video once it went viral on YouTube. Guess who just got a full band scholarship?
Everything happens for a reason, Pube-A!
To be serious for a moment many things simply do not happen for a reason. Children dying of starvation, random murders, and natural disasters to name a few. If you have a reason that goes beyond, “Hey, shit happens!” I’m all ears. Imagine your sister was just sexually assaulted. After her silkwood shower you wouldn’t have the balls to try to comfort her with, “Something good will come of this – you’ll see!” By the way, that’s another phrase that needs to be shot in the taint.
“Everything happens for a reason” implies that the universe will take care of you and bring you to something better. But to think along those lines means you have to ignore the millions that don’t get to something better. Like the 20% of the world who lives in poverty. Nothing better going to happen to those folks.
I know we all would like to think we’re special to God or the universe, but if that’s true, God isn’t such an omnibenevolent guy. And if there is a God, I don’t suspect he interferes much in our lives. If he does he needs to reexamine his priorities and help a few of the people of Africa now and then.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t comfort a friend in need. You should. But instead of saying, “This happened for a reason,” try, “You can find the strength to move on.” Assuming the person is physically and mentally capable of doing so, this is a empowering phrase. And, in many cases, you can, in fact, find meaning in something terrible. Viktor Frankl wrote about this as a Jew in the concentration camps in Man’s Search for Meaning.
Why do bad things happen? Because, sadly, they do.
And when something wonderful falls your way, my suggestion is to recognize whether this was due to your own effort, others’ efforts, or simply good fortune.
So, let’s ditch the phrase “Everything happens for a reason.” I know you mean well and your heart’s in the right place, but you can do better.
By the way it seems like we finally got rid of saying, “That’s retarded” to mean stupid, which is a victory in and of itself. Next, if we can work on “It is what it is” I would be forever grateful. That one sucks, too.