We live in a complex, fast-paced world where events and experiences oftentimes are difficult to explain. We want to know why things happen the way they do. In particular, we want to know why bad things happen to good people. Put another way – why is there undeserved suffering? German philosopher Max Weber argued that, as human society became increasingly rational, the need to explain why “good people” suffered and “evil people” prospered became more important. Quite simply, we want answers.
While I am no philosopher, I observe the question “why” having five forms or intents:
- Learning why – “Humm, I’m curious why that happened.” We are naturally curious. Curiosity keeps our minds active and allows us to be open to new ideas. By being curious we are able to see new worlds and possibilities which are hidden behind the surface of daily life.
- Sense-making why – “What caused this to happen?” We want to make sense of the world around us. We hope that the world is rational – that is, that there is a cause-effect relationship to life’s events. We often ask “why” to better understand the nature of a problem as well as its possible solution. If we can figure out why something happened, then we might be able to prevent it from happening again.
- Blaming why – “I’m really mad that happened. Who is to blame?”
Assigning blame is a common way to make sense of things that we don’t like. We want to be assured that for every bad happening there was a logical cause and someone will be held accountable. We do not want to believe that things happen without cause. If things happen randomly, then aren’t we all vulnerable?
- Wallowing why – “Why do so many bad things happen to me?” Psychiatrists often suggest we use the “Five Stages of Grief” model to help cope with adversity. The road to acceptance has many pot-holes. For some, it is easy to get stuck asking “why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?” The longer we “wallow in the why” the more likely we start to view the world through the lens of a victim. The ongoing questioning “why” can easily stop becoming a search for answers and start becoming a state of powerlessness.
- Meaning why – “What is the meaning behind this?”The spiritual question of why is best illustrated in the Book of Job. Much of the book is devoted to understand why Job, an apparently good man, has suffered the adversities that he has. Some things aren’t easily explained through logic but rather in a belief in a higher power. Through that higher power many discover meaning in their lives more deeply than if their suffering hadn’t come. That life meaning helps guide them into a purposeful future.
Interestingly, we seldom try to understand the “why” when good things happen. We seem to take these things for granted. But, isn’t there just as much learning to come from good outcomes?
Pushing the Edge of Your Thinking
- When was the last time you obsessed over a “why”? Did you resolve it?
- Do you think that for everything that happens there is a cause? Is it possible that some things “just are” or are meant to be?
- Why do you think good things happen to you?