Rubble from collapsed buildings in the streets of Yogyakarta in Indonesia, following the earthquake. (Photo: Oxfam America)
“There are no accidents or coincidences,” says someone who posted a comment recently to a blog I read.
“Everything happens for a reason,” says one of my neighbors about all manner of things from the trivial to the momentous.
A few weeks ago, I was a passenger in a friend’s car. We were ready to drive away after lunch in a restaurant. She looked in her rear mirror and all was clear, so she reversed out of her space in a row of parked cars. A man in the row of parked cars behind her also looked and saw all was clear so he, too, reversed out of his row. They met in the middle.
If no-coincidences-everything-for-a-reason conventional wisdom is to be believed, it was no simple accident, no unlucky coincidence that my friend and the other driver both backed out at exactly the same moment.
In a former life, I put a lot of effort into trying to teach causal reasoning to English 101 students, and I agree that behind every event or situation or occurrence of something is a reason or a series of identifiable reasons. But that isn’t what the proponents of conventional wisdom mean. They speak on the level of the Grand Design.
So carrying their philosophy to its logical end, my friend and the other driver must have been playing assigned roles in a cosmic drama. And in the Great Scheme of Things, there is a metaphysical reason for earthquakes and tsunamis, for planes to crash, for children to be abused, for people to starve, for someone who happens to be on the wrong street at the wrong time to get mugged, for one person to escape a burning building and another not, for someone who doesn’t deserve the job to get it over someone who does, and for my cell phone not to be working when I’m stuck in traffic and late for an appointment (and there I am, naïvely thinking it’s simply because I forgot to charge it.)
I miss the point of the no-concidences-all-for-a-reason view of life. If my car collides with a truck and is totaled, am I supposed to feel better if I believe that it wasn’t because of some unassociated collection of circumstances that put the truck and me in in the same place, or because one of us was going too fast, or because the road was icy—but that it was preordained?
I don’t buy it. I think life is pretty random.