The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Recently I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with someone who is not only intelligent and funny, but also takes the time to think deeply on things and to challenge me (another way of saying “call me on my bull shit”). I was quite surprised to find myself challenged by this person the other day on a phrase I regularly toss around: “Everything Happens for a Reason”.
In my arrogance, I’ve always considered this altruistic phrase to be a by-product of my character development from circumstances I’ve been through. To me, it was a way of saying that good can come from the worst situations; it’s all about how you use it, what you take from it.
However, just because that is the nuance I cling to does not mean that it carries that weight and inference with others. As my friend pointed out, it’s really a dumbass saying: “Everything Happens for a Reason” is honestly stating the obvious.
No shit, Sherlock. Everything happens for a reason… even science alone tells us that. Chain reaction theory, causal events…
This was one of those slapped-in-the-face-with-a-wet-noodle-step-back-catch-your-breath moments for me. (You’ve never had those?)
I use this phrase with EVERYONE and didn’t realize how condescending and stupid it sounded until I was called on it.
Here’s how this phrase effectively holds ZERO water, and since I like a full, honest, deep life vs. fluff and bull shit, it’s worth looking into:
1. “Everything Happens for a Reason” implies a lack of control over our actions, choices, words, and thoughts.
“It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll;
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
-William Ernest Henley
No matter your view on God or fate (I believe in free will), there has to be some acknowledgement of the weight of influence over your own future by the choices you make today. The truth is, we have the ability to choose, always. It is perhaps the most powerful thing about humankind: our ability to reason, and to choose. I tell this to clients all the time: today is all about choices. Every day is about choices. Who will you be today? What will you do? In the end, it’s not me that will motivate someone to get in shape or to take ownership over their eating habits: they are 100% in control. They. Choose.
In the same way, the choices you make every day influence your character, your future, and what you take from your past. Even your thoughts are choices. When we abdicate control over our thoughts, we may find ourselves shipwrecked on the rocks of the demons of our past.
2. “Everything Happens for a Reason” robs our future of its joys.
If you adopt a fatalistic stance toward your choices and the power you actually possess to make something of yourself, your relationships, and the world around you, you rob your future of joy. You drift through life as a byproduct of fatalistic and inconsequential reality, another puppet on the stage of a broken drama. In this instance, the concept of “Everything Happens for a Reason” becomes a cage. You are trapped by your inability to influence your present and your future.
As we just saw in the previous point, this is not so. Therefore, rather than abdicate responsibility over our choices and the influence we have in a very powerful way, we must consciously both accept and acknowledge and act upon the power we possess over our future.
Doing this brings a heavy weight of responsibility, yes, but it also brings a carefree confidence if our character is sound. We acknowledge the power we have, we choose to use it to make sound choices, and we reap the consequences of doing so. We can CHOOSE happiness, joy, faith, beauty, nature, holistic thought patterns, and we benefit from doing so.
(Note: one of the most powerful ways to choose joy in the present is to remove the influence of others who bring only negativity and pain to your life. THIS IS NOT SELFISH. This is wise, and it’s something I’ve learned to do.)
3. “Everything Happens for a Reason” is an asshole thing to say to anyone.
Yea, I went pretty informal on that one^^. But it’s true! I feel absolutely terrible for every time I said that to someone. In every instance, someone had hopes, dreams, beliefs, something that was totally destroyed in some way. I hate preachy people, and by saying that, I became one of them. Was it my intent? No. But I said it, and I sounded like a jerk for doing so. Essentially, you’re saying “Well, there it is. It happened. Too bad.”
What I MEANT was that not only do you have power over your choices, you have power over the negative things that happen to you that are out of your control because you can choose to take from them what you will. You can choose bitterness and anger toward someone who has wronged you, or you can choose to learn a lesson and to move forward and leave the past behind. They only have as much power as you choose to give them.
While all of this was my intent, it’s not what comes across. If I liked a guy and he broke up with me and said that to me, I would want to slap him… and yet I’ve said this to dudes when I wasn’t interested. Ouch. My bad. Public apology extended.
One way I deny my ex power over my present is to avoid taking the low road with him. Do I speak honestly about what happened? Yes. Do I share his name, trash his character in an intimate way, talk to his friends (most of whom I chose to have no contact with for this reason after I left), steal from him, chew him out, lash out at him, etc.? No. Those actions degrade ME. They show weakness of character in ME, and they give him power over my PRESENT and FUTURE by allowing past situations with him to continue to effect me. I will not give that to him, and I choose to take control over my present and take the high road by not doing so. Anyone who gets off on the pain they inflict on another human being, even if “deserved” has no integrity of character. Don’t do it. Move forward.
4. “Everything Happens for a Reason” is an inadequate way to wrestle with pain.
If you say this or hear this and leave it there, you haven’t dealt with whatever hurt you that you’re trying to justify.
Personally, I don’t just say this; I’ve wrestled, wrestled, wrestled with things that have happened to me. Many, many, many painful things in the last 8 years. But not everyone does this, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, there is no justifiable reason for the pain that was inflicted on me, and I can’t understand that. I can’t cope with it. So I stonewall my emotion by throwing this up as a safeguard, when in fact it is a cop-out. Grief is a process. If you run, it will find you… and a fatalistic saying in an altruistic disguise is a terrible way of coping.
I could go on, but this post is getting long. Essentially, it’s a fucked up phrase. I won’t be using it anymore. It’s become a part of my vocabulary, and now if I start to say it, it carries a shock value because it’s stupid, empty, worthless, selfish, and unhelpful.
No more cop-out for me.
Today I acknowledge that I am powerful.
That I have value.
That I deserve good, and beautiful things.
That I can make something of myself, of my relationships.
That I can choose, today
the best of things, a beautiful inheritance, a depth of character and insight, a passionate concern for the wellbeing of others, a love for all things beautiful and real, integrity to myself; who I am, what I want, and all I am capable of.
Let us say instead Everything I Choose to Be, I Will Become.
Acknowledge your own power with confidence today, and lay both hands on the helm.