Walsh's Wonderings - Happening for a reason

Is there anything more irritating than hearing someone say, “It happens for a reason” when something bad occurs? Whether it’s choking in the big game or losing big in a deal that goes south, there always seems to be someone lurking in the shadows waiting to pop out and unload this empty trope at the first chance.

To begin with, it completely invalidates legitimate pain. What it really means is, “It happened for a reason … so what’s your problem?” It’s a passive aggressive way of asking us to calm down and stop whining already.

Even worse, saying that something has happened because of some preordained reason is essentially saying we never should have expected a successful outcome in the first place. They might as well say, “Failure was your only option.”

Can somebody tell me again why I’m supposed to feel good about this?

These phrases of questionable comfort come in a variety of flavors, including “It just wasn’t meant to be” or “It’s no one’s fault.” Regardless, they all come with the disturbing implication that Fate is stepping in to determine our wins and losses. Telling me that I shouldn’t feel bad about the outcome because it was never really in my control anyway is far from comforting. It’s maddening.

My mom’s version of this was “It’s all God’s plan.” She’d use this if we ever experienced a painful breakup or got waitlisted by our first-choice school. My reaction to this was always, “What did I ever do to God?” I thought we were friends. Mom also used to say there’s no such thing as unanswered prayers; it’s just that sometimes the answer is, “No.” Suffice to say, sometimes Mom didn’t paint an inspiring picture of God.

Put simply, if something bad has “happened for a reason,” there’s a subtle judgment taking place. If I lose the bidding war on my last offer on a house, people who say this are basically saying the other person had a better “reason” for getting the house. Suddenly, I’m faced with the idea that my reasons for wanting that house did not meet some cosmic Expectation. My wishes didn’t rate to the Universe. Rather than offering me solace in this difficult time, people who use this phrase are actually telling me I didn’t deserve it in the first place.

In the end, I know that most people mean well when they tell us that things happen for a reason. However, using cliches like this are like trying to put out a fire by dousing it with gasoline. Better to silently offer your shoulder to cry on than use it as a battering ram. Better yet, keep your shoulder and your platitudes to yourself if they don’t express genuine human empathy.

Oh, and if you’re not sure why you need to stop saying things like this, find solace in the knowledge that you don’t need to know why. (After all, there simply must be a reason….)

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.