We’ve probably all heard this statement at one time or another. For some, it is a reassuring phrase while for others it is infuriating. Why would someone be upset by such a statement you ask. Unfortunately, the declaration has become so commonplace that it has become almost a cliche. Even being offered up recklessly in an inauthentic manner, lacking in sincerity and real meaning by those who utter the words.
For starters, empathy is not something that can be conveyed on autopilot - e.g., given effectively without real thought. Genuine compassion requires actually putting yourself in the other person's shoes, as best you can. Taking into account the many factors that may play a part or role in the way they are feeling and that may be having a direct impact on their emotional state.
To be authentically empathetic requires knowing the person you are offering empathy to, or at the very least, being able to relate to them at the place where they are at. This requires gaining an understanding, reflection, consideration and thought. In other words, effort - both mental and emotional.
Those who habitually offer up condolences without first putting forth the effort, run the risk of causing more harm than good.
Let’s discuss why. Firstly the obvious. If you rob a bank and get caught, you go to prison. So in this case, it should not come as a surprise, shock or be unexpected that being incarcerated is what happens as the reason for getting caught robbing a bank.
Instances that catch people off guard are when something terrible happens to someone “good” or trying to do good, and is not a direct consequence of their ill-intended actions. In other words, someone who is driving the speed limit, being cautious, observant, courteous to other drivers around them, not distracted and wearing their seatbelt, but gets hit by a drunk driver.
Now, this is where the statement comes into play, “Everything happens for a reason.” However, if the crash results in a fatality, this statement does little to ease the pain of the loved ones left behind. Sometimes even those with a strong faith. Some may embrace this point of view while others resist it at first but eventually come to embrace it over time. Yet still, there are those who will vehemently reject the notion, forever.
Through the lens of trying to heal, I would encourage you to look at this statement in a slightly different way. I’ll start by saying I am of the belief that there is absolute truth to the statement, even though we don’t always see it at first, or it takes time for the reason to be revealed or created.
If we slightly revise the sentence, it may make more sense. That version would be “there is a reason why everything happens.” Nearly all of the same words you say, and that would be correct. However, there is one important distinction with this phrasing.
It causes you to ask “What is?” vs. “Why did?” In other words, what reason. With that viewpoint, you can begin to either search for and possibly even more importantly, create the 'what.' The old adage (or true cliche) when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Being careful not to minimize the devastating impact of some of life’s bitter blows, this perspective is instead intended to help you heal. By creating a reason, a purpose the “what for” to the reason, means to look for, search, expect, and if need be, create the “what for” in order to both make sense of it all and perhaps more importantly, refuse to let an opportunity go to waste to generate something good come from something bad.
Most often you see what it is that you seek. In the aftermath, if you are fixated on the confusion and strife of the event and its resulting scar, more uncertainty is what you will get. On the other hand, if you seek to find the lesson, reason, purpose, cause, or even an injustice that needs to be addressed, you will find, and likely foster the reason, as created by your striving and efforts.
The shortened version is this; when things don't make sense, make them make sense. Rise front the ashes and find, build, erect, grow, nourish, tend, inflect, push, invoke and bleed if you have to, for a noble reason for it all. Do this so that in the final analysis, you cause something good to come from something bad. You, the seeker of good, achieve a win in exchange for your loss.
We don’t control what happens to us, only how we respond to it is within our spectrum of influence.