When the question was put to me, my first reaction was that there is indeed a reason for everything and every event. End of discussion, or so I had hoped. The question was posed days ago, yet I am still pondering the answer. You see, short, quick, tidy, pat answers have never worked for me. Life would be so much simpler if I could accept “short and sweet” but I can’t. The question is still sitting on my brain and begging for a more thoughtful answer.
As soon as I hear the phrase “everything happens for a reason,” I think of those events in life that defy reason: apartheid, the Shoah, loss of a child, ethnic cleansing, starvation in a world of plenty, slavery, etc. Or, why does evil seem to prevail over goodness? Why does an unethical or immoral person prosper at the expense of honesty and integrity? What are the reasons for these inequities?
In my estimation, “meaning can be wrought from everything that happens” is a more accurate statement than “everything happens for a reason.” Stories abound of people who have suffered the unimaginable but have gone on to imbue their lives with meaning and purpose. When the random, senseless tragedy occurs, one gets to choose their attitude, beliefs, reactions and pro-actions regarding the accident.
Some of you may be familiar with Viktor Frankl (if not, I urge you to familiarize yourself with his writings.) His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, profoundly affected my outlook on life. Frankl, an established psychiatrist, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and Dachau during World War II. He lost his parents, wife, all but one sibling, aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues in the gas chambers, and all of his worldly possessions and writings, too. While in the camps, Frankl suffered unspeakable brutality, and anticipated being sent to the death chambers any and every moment of his imprisonment. Yet, it was while he was in the midst of this hellish nightmare that Frankl had his epiphany, and recognized that the thing that could never ever be taken from him was his will-to-meaning, his attitude toward any circumstance, the creative will to remain human in an inhuman environment. Through this experience, Frankl developed what came to be known as “logotherapy,” based on the belief that people can survive anything in life, and even thrive as long as they can find/create meaning for their existence.
The efficacy of Frankl’s existential theory is proven time and again in the lives of those who embrace the will-to-meaning, whether they are familiar with Frankl’s theory or not. Listed below are a few links to the stories of individuals whose lives were challenged with senseless tragedies. Each person experienced intense suffering, yet each found the will to live because they chose meaning over meaningless-ness. So, does everything have a reason? No, but in everything there can be found or created a meaningful existence.
If you have other links you would like to add, let me know. I don’t mind making this a very long list! I apologize that these links don’t work. I tried. You will have to copy and paste, but the sites are well worth the effort.