Sorry, But Everything Does Not Happen For a Reason


Amy Mrotek ’16 is a Communication and Media Studies and English double major from Milwaukee, WI.

It’s a dubious question to ask whether it’s better to provide pretty lies or painful truths. You could dedicate an entire academic semester–really your entire life–trimming such thought hedges, driving yourself crazy parceling its categorical imperatives, accounting for context and seeking some crystalized standard in which to interpersonally hold yourself accountable.

And yet, amidst the immense spectrum that is the individual’s experience of pain and tragedy, living inevitably thrusts on our being (which I’m assuming is a staggering, if not unanimous amount of us), somehow we all contentedly arrive at a near-identical conclusion.

And that’s the ideal: that yes, chin up, son, “everything happens for a reason.”

Each time this phrase is uttered, I find myself burrowing further and further into my disappointment foxhole. What exactly is this lifeline tossed about in the greatest moment of deepest pathos? What function does it serve?

Between the awkward pauses of a condoling hug, the sympathetic cards or the Facebook shout-outs, these words don’t fill any beneficiary holes. Rather, they do quite the opposite, unhinging the friend, family or acquaintance consoler from any legitimate responsibility to meet the griever where they truly are.

On one hand, the everything-happens-for-a-reason line assumes not only a dismissive position; it’s perhaps the least empathetic, least thoughtful articulation of attempted solidarity with another. It implies tied-up outcomes for occurrences that by their very nature are insurmountable, unfixable. There is no repair for losing a child. There is no end game, linear living after the death of a life partner. You will not, somehow, someway find your “true” self post-diagnoses of a chronic, debilitating illness. The prescription of such logic is as callous as it is, quite frankly, absurd.

That is perhaps the most pernicious aspect of “everything happens for a reason.” You have essentially removed the devastated individual from his or her own imperative emotive process. And, in doing so, you’ve erased their space for grief, numbed the complications of life, superimposed your own moral assumptions and plopped further burden on that person to rise above and emerge, bigger and better.

Furthermore, what does this say about our proficiency to be in sincerely painful spaces? While it’s perfectly natural to want feel-good solutions with words wrapped in bows, “everything happens for a reason” necessitates that there really is no such thing as real tragedy. Misfortunes and heartbreaks will eventually taper, memories and events we philosophically whitewash on our way to moving on. It’s like we can only stand pain when we assume it to be a springboard to our true selves, when who we truly are is a momentary construction, not a sequential bouquet of “this made me better” flowers.

Films and books may have such curated conflicts, a rise and fall in action that propels the protagonist onto a new plane of wisdom. Yet this just isn’t how life works.

Sometimes pain does break an individual. Sometimes lives slip into the long-term, gray-hued fragility. Sometimes we aren’t made better by our blemishes. We only learn to carry them.

Ultimately, these words do nothing but parrot vapid, fortune-cookie banalities. Yes, admittedly, we all love us some fortune cookies. Beef and broccoli just isn’t quite the same without some. Yet centering life’s metaphysical takeaways on paper shoved inside a cookie is categorically weak. We can all do better. And that better begins with the disposal of such a toxic phrase.


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