Is it really the case that everything we go through in life is for a reason, so we can learn from it?
Maybe we needed to meet a particular kind of person in order to heal a particular wound. To develop a particular quality. Maybe we have a succession of different lifetimes, until we finally learn our lessons right. Maybe there was a purpose in that horrendous experience, because you came out of it a stronger person.
Or maybe these are just stories we tell about what happens to us pretty much without rhyme or reason. Is there any harm in that? Is there any use in that?
Telling your story can be very empowering. So can changing your story—re-writing the script to suit you. We’re narrative creatures, and if we don’t tell our stories, it’s likely that someone else will do it for us. There’s nothing worse than being stuck inside somebody else’s script. Or losing sight of the narrative altogether—the moments when we say we’ve ‘lost the plot.’ It’s good to feel some semblance of control.
The story of everything in life being for a reason—the ‘moral of the story’—is often a back-up story we tell when we know that we ‘lost the plot’ and we lost control. Well, it didn’t make any sense, we didn’t know what we were doing, we made totally the wrong choice, we were manipulated, abused—but hey, never mind, our story triumphed anyway; look what we learned! We learned what never to do again! We’re now so much wiser.
Well, we have undeniably learned something, but I am not sure that was the higher purpose of making the mistake. I am not sure there is anyone out there writing the meta-narrative. I am not sure anyone is watching, or writing, but us, and I’m not sure that our ‘writing’ controls anything but the meaning we create out of our experiences. Of course, the meaning we create is no small thing.
So, if we want to create a narrative in which we are learning life lessons and that actually helps us—gives us energy and purpose and strength—then it’s a good story for us to tell. If the story makes us feel strangely disempowered, disconnected, stuck (“I can’t stop doing this because I haven’t got rid of my trauma yet—I know why I’m doing it…,” etc.) or angry, then why not write another one, in which what happened, happened, and we did the best we could?
Whether everything happens for a reason depends on the story you tell. You can always find a reason. We notice what we notice, feel what we feel and do what we do because of who we are and everything that has happened to us. Gaining experience tends to make us wiser, holes tend to be filled somehow, good choices tend to produce good consequences, and vice versa. I don’t think we need a moral narrative to make any further sense of this, or for the world to be sliced up into personal stories which explain everything in retrospect.
If a story works for you, tell it—if not, never mind. Whatever story you buy, or create, remember that you’re bigger than that; the situation is infinitely bigger than that. And you are the one who decided to tell it in just that way.
Sarah Luczajis a poet, person centred counsellor/therapist and translator from the UK, living in rural Poland, where she runs an online therapy practice and face to face therapy practice (the latter in Polish!). Once a regular writer for the Psychology, Philosophy and Real Life blog, she is now busy focusing, writing a PhD on no-self in therapy, laughing at just about everything and attempting to grow vegetables.
Editor: Thandiwe Ogbonna