When my Mom was ageing, there came a time when she was unable to follow conversation with true empathy. She wanted to know what was going on in my life but really did not have the capacity to make suggestions, connect with the story or, frankly, understand what I was talking about. Her pat answer became “Never mind, it will all work out.”
Before I realized she was losing capacity, the phrase used to piss me off. I’ve just told her my life is falling apart and I don’t know what to do and she says, “Never mind, it will all work out!?!?!?” What I heard was “Stop talking now.” “I’m bored.” “I don’t want to help you sort this out.” Yet she constantly asked me what was going on for me and became wounded if I didn’t share.
Comparing notes with my siblings, we came to realize she said it to all of us and that it was becoming all she knew how to say. That the final stages of aging are a kind of shutting down, narrowing, and she certainly meant no harm by it. To this day, we will “never mind” each other in a tongue in cheek homage to her.
Imagine my alarm when I began to recognize that there is another phrase with pretty much the same message that has become common place in our culture. A phrase that basically says “I don’t have to actual hear what you’re saying and I sure don’t have to allow you to feel whatever you’re feeling. I can just utter this phrase and I both shut down conversation and appear “new agey” and deep.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
Have you been hearing this one?
“I went for a job interview but I didn’t get the job.”
“Oh well, everything happens for a reason. I guess you weren’t meant to have that job.”
“My boyfriend broke up with me.”
“I believe, everything happens for a reason. You’ll find a better boyfriend!”
Full disclosure, I, myself, actually believe everything happens for a reason. I believe we are in school here and our experiences serve to guide and teach us what we want and need to learn. I believe that through living a rich, full life we grow wiser, more powerful, more soulful. And I believe there is a gift in every struggle we experience.
But here’s the problem. If we don’t actually explore what has happened, if we jump right to that blessed catch phrase, we are bypassing the empathy, bypassing the connection, bypassing the processing, bypassing the understanding. All in the name of bypassing the pain. We are adopting the same impaired capacity my siblings and I saw in our 89 year old mother!
So please stop saying “Everything happens for a reason.” For the person you are saying it to it’s the equivalent of saying, “I can’t be bothered.” If you actually can be bothered, how about replacing it with “Sounds tough, tell me more…”