When a personal setback or national tragedy takes place, many people are searching for explanations. In the understandable desire to alleviate anxiety, a popular phrase is typically offered: everything happens for a reason. While uttered in a spirit of good intentions, this line of thinking is problematic for at least three reasons.
First, it is a disempowering worldview. People are framed as mere actors in a play directed by an external force. We become puppets who do nothing more than regurgitate from a script. Control is theorized as being outside the individual; thus reducing humanity to an instrument. Such an idea wages a frontal assault on agency and responsibility – sending the message that beings are just -and can only be- means to an end. Depending on the psychological makeup of each person, this could strengthen the original feeling of despondency that it seeks to ameliorate. Alternatively, this perspective might encourage a flight from reality to a world of sacred illusions where invisible Fathers have all the answers.
Second, the phrase raises more questions than it answers. Asserting that there is a reason does not even remotely address what that reason is. It’s like raising your hand to solve a problem in math class by stating: “I know there is an answer”… but never giving it. It’s a pointless rhetorical exercise that wastes everybody’s time.
And unless the speaker has psychic abilities, it is unknown whether that reason is good. The ‘reason’ is a mystery and one is forced to speculate. Without concrete facts, it is an empty declaration. Therefore, the cliché should not be presented as a statement – it should be framed as a question. We are really asking: everything happens for a reason, right? In some instances, the saying is more suitable as a prayer: everything happens for a reason, O Lord!
Third, the phrase promotes paralysis. In the face of social injustice, it is imperative that people organize and act to change their conditions. There must be an active resistance. However, the impulse of this phrase (the word ‘everything’) suggests that our decadent civilization is a self-correcting system that does not require intervention. So stay home! Sit back! Relax!