I’ve been having some of the most interestingly deep and philosophical discussions lately. I apologize if this isn’t really the blog you’ve been looking for… move along… move along, but some of the ponderings that have been pondered have really made me restructure my own approach to some things, and maybe let go of a few not so helpful and somewhat irrational beliefs (thank you Albert Ellis). So, now, I share with all of you. #SorryNotSorry.
One of my own personal pet peeves originates with occurrences throughout my life. It isn’t so much that people were deliberately trying to hurt me. In fact, I know that most people that make the statements I’m about to discuss mean it in the best possible way. The problem is that while it might comfort them to say these things, it can have devastating effects on the person to whom they are said. I am, of course, speaking of the generalized commentary that there is some benevolent overreaching plan that incorporates predestination and general lack of free choice in the outcomes of the universe.
I am absolutely not going to get into a discussion of religion and faith (except in a very marginal sense). However, if this sort of philosophical topic and questioning of grand plan offends, you might want to click away now. At various points in my life, I have had to face disappointment. It just happens. It’s part of living and the odds of general existence. Even the most sure of things occasionally doesn’t come through in the end. The luckiest of people sometimes brick it. That’s just life. There are some who believe that the failures in life are there to make us appreciate the successes. What was it Yogi Berra said “If the world were perfect… it wouldn’t be.” That’s the sort of assumption that states that humans don’t appreciate when they have it good, unless there is something bad to which it can be compared. To go with another quote, and one of my favorites, “What is light, without the darkness?”
I’m not sure if I go with that, but along the same lines are the people who will consistently tell you that the trials, obstacles, and general negative experiences of life are “tests.” For what, I want to know, because seriously…? I saw a meme one time that said “God only gives you what you are strong enough to take…” Um… so, I figure I should be benching Greyhound buses at this point…? And if my life is going great? What? I’m not worth the effort to test and train? The one that bugs me the most, though is, “God has a different plan for you.” Yeah, I told you it might get marginally religious. I’m not going to get into whether deity exists, what He/She looks like, or if there is some pasta-related being that magically created the world in which we live. Everyone is entitled to their own belief system, and personally I think faith can be a powerful force of good for most people, helping shore them up in times of trouble or encouraging them to be the best version of themselves. Whether you believe there is God, gods, or none of the above is not really my point or my business.
The issue I have is that in the worst possible circumstances and in times of greatest disappointment or horrific trauma, people flip out the “There is a different plan for you…” Um… I don’t particularly care. My plan was just torpedoed like the Lusitania. My heart was broken from disappointment, and someone wants me to believe that there is a consciousness in the universe that deliberately did that because my wishes weren’t in their plans? Perhaps it is just me. There are possibly people who find such statements comforting. However, I am not one of them, and hearing such a thing after significant loss is not really helping the process of grieving.
On the other side is what angers a friend of mine. People who won’t accept credit for their own efforts and who consistently attribute anything good in their life to the gracious boon of a higher power. I get where she is coming from, and I agree to a certain extent. It is one of those things that is very cultural. You can’t accept credit or compliments for fear of appearing as a braggart. So, you have to fob it off as “nothing, really,” or not really anything that you did… You were merely a spectator while some other being did it all and you ate the popcorn? I’m a little more lenient. I think that if you are a person of faith and want to give thanks or credit to your chosen deity for giving you the winning genetic lottery ticket or possibly bringing some helpful influences into your life… all well and good. However, completely disregarding your own effort and will to accomplish a goal seems overdoing the humility thing. I think it is perfectly ok to say, “Hey, I did this! And I’m proud of it!” without all the accompanying false modesty (or maybe real modesty but falsely placed).
So, why do people say these things? Why is it more comforting to think that there is some grand scheme to which we are completely ignorant and just sorta following along hoping we get to be the “good guys” in the story and live happily ever after? Why do we attribute bad things to that same plan rather than just admitting that sometimes bad @#$% just happens. Sometimes it even happens to decent folk, and contrarily sometimes good @#$% happens to people we think really don’t deserve it. Do we get to make that decision, in fact? This person deserves the good @#$% and that one doesn’t? And beyond that, if good people are tested, they should get the bad @#$%. If they get the bad @#$%, why would I want to be good? On the other hand, if the bad @#$% happens to bad people, therefore by that logic, any person having bad @#$% happen must be a bad person. See how that works? Yeah, trying to wrap my brain around that sort of logic is painful.
Though I said that I really wasn’t going to get into the religious aspects (as in organized religion), and I’m not, really; I will actually generalize to say that most modern religions all predict rewards and such after death. There definitely seems to be more of a focus on “Life sucks and that’s cool, because when you die everything will be perfect.” I just don’t know how I feel about that. Combine that with the wide variety of doctrines and instruction manuals that have the different ways to qualify for said rewards… Yeah, that’s how wars start, and I’m just not going there.
I guess my biggest problem with it is the free will thing. If there is a plan, all predetermined, what is the point of any of us behaving ourselves, acting like decent folk, or bothering with things like ethics or morals in general? See my circular logic-spiral-of-death above. It seems a little redundant in fact. If the overseeing mind has already been made up, what is the point of doing good? That being said, I know that a few centuries ago people were burned at the stake for even asking that question.
However, I have to admit my own susceptibility to the mindset of external locus of control. For me, it isn’t the comforting kind that says, “These things are sent to try my faith,” or “That didn’t work out because there is something better in store for me.” That’s not how my brain tends to tick. In my case, it is my feeling of dread and expectation. I cannot accept the good. Maybe it is the years of hearing that good people are tested and that their reward comes after death. Maybe it is that the external locus of control I allow in my weaker moments belongs to Murphy and all his Laws. When things are going too well or a few good things come my way, I start getting nervous. It’s true. I have to remind myself consciously as a woman of science that the universe is not really some sentient malevolent being waiting for me to get complaisant so it can drop a large anvil on my head.
But that is how we’ve been taught to think in this modern world. Expect the worst and take what you get. I actually wrote about this aspect once before (See Monster Spray). It is one of the most insidious things that can happen in the human brain, believing that there is a balance out there and a tally being kept and too much good requires for that balance to be reset by something awful… or vice versa. It keeps us from accepting the fact that sometimes, bad stuff just happens. It can hurt, but we can run from it or learn from it (my absolute most cherished line ever produced for a Disney film). The other side of the nasty little psychological parasite of external locus of control… we don’t truly enjoy the good @#$% because we are too busy waiting for the bad @#$% to be balanced out in the tally books. At some point, we need to realize it isn’t all some big conspiracy. We need to enjoy the good and live the best we can with the bad… maybe learn a bit from both.