Uncommon Sense

March 5, 2008

Everything’s gonna be alright

It’s probably the most common song lyric. Of course, I don’t know whether statistically that is true, but it appears so often that it seems to be an assumption shared by many, embodied in such trite affirmations as “Everything happens for a reason” and “Everything works out for the best”, New Age mottos that slip off the tongue with all the ease of a Universal Truth, and seem to be accepted with alacrity, particularly by those who have lived in a comfort zone their entire life.

They’re also trotted out by ‘positive’ people with that irritating condescending attitude, who speak to you from a lofty ‘spiritual higher ground’ as if such a place is known to exist, with a wisdom that ‘passes all understanding’. Or comprehension, or even just a hint of intelligence…

What these statements mean is that things will get better, and of course we hope so. But what if we were talking to someone living in Europe when the Spanish Flu was killing one in every two people? Or to a kid in Hiroshima just before the arrival of Enola Gay, or a Tutsi in Rwanda during the attempted genocide, or a little old lady in New Orleans just before Katrina hit, or the tourist on the beach in the Philippines just before the Tsunami arrived? Turns out, they’re famous last words in these cases.

It takes all of a minute to recognise how simplistic and absurd this notion is. It’s the kind of rhetoric one expects from someone who has never read anything more complicated than a bestselling novel, not somebody seriously trying to unravel life’s great mysteries.

To say that ‘everything happens for a reason’ is on the one hand a blinding flash of the obvious, if by ‘for a reason’ we mean that it had a cause. If it’s an event, it must have. No argument there. But if that is what is meant, it seems a senseless waste of energy and breath to state what is self-evident to a 10-year-old, as is this entire paragraph to anyone with a brain.

If, however, we mean that there was ‘meaning’ to the event, a ‘reason why’ it happened, a purpose the event fulfilled, then surely we have a little more difficulty accepting this platitude.

We might rephrase the statement, then, without losing it’s essence, but simpler and more honestly, to read:

‘Every event has meaning or purpose’

Does that include taking a dump? How about picking one’s nose, or putting out the garbage?

See how glib it suddenly appears? While it may be inspiring to those who have experienced deprivation or disaster, the issue of whether something ‘sounds good’ to the hearer or inspires people is completely irrelevant to whether it is true or not.

It is not difficult to see that it is a claim that the Universe is meaningful; it has a purpose. It is here we run into a small problem, because what is meaningful to one person may not be meaningful to another. The reason for this is that we all have contradictory Reality Models, in which Purpose is defined in different terms:

Religious people, for the most part, live in a Benign Universe, where humans are responsible to a Supernatural Entity or Entities or a System which interacts with human affairs, compensates for the inequities, right all the wrongs, and everybody gets their just desserts, either in this life or the next. The world is fair, after all. Life is a moral test, the religious leaders, agents of the Supernatural, set the rules, and the common people expect rewards or punishment based on their conformance to the Truth.

Naturalists live in the Indifferent Universe, which seems to have a laissez-faire attitude towards events. In this world, things just happen, and Survival is the only ethic demanded by reality. Predatory behaviour is expected, as is disaster and it’s cousin, good fortune. Neither is evidence of purpose or meaning; they are merely interesting aspects of a complex set of interactions.

Others think the world is an illusion, or looks like one – one can’t be sure. And yet others think life is a school, and Learning is the Ultimate Objective.

Another huddle believes in ‘energy’ levels and transcendence of this ordinary reality to ‘higher states of being’ the reason why we’re here, being here a choice we made ourselves before becoming part of this reality. How they know this is completely beyond me.

Each ‘Reality Model’ has it’s own definition for three fundamental concepts: The Nature of Reality, it’s Purpose, and the Behaviours that drive that Purpose. Perspective alters not only reality, but also perception of Quality within that reality.

So when there is a Natural Disaster, the Naturalist sees a set of causes and effects in which creatures, some human and others not, have been unwilling and meaningless victims. The Naturalist sees no necessity to infer any interference by divine entities or ‘spiritual energy levels’ or ‘karma’ or any other irrational component. The events are fully explainable without recourse to the unknown, being caused by geological, atmospheric, and geographical events and conditions. In an Epidemic, the causes are biological; in an Economic Crash, behavioural, in War, political. In addition, all these events seem to be no ‘respecters’ of religion or creed. These events do not discriminate for or against reality models – they attack everyone equally.

“What of those who prayed and were delivered?”, you say. It would be useful to have the record of those who prayed and didn’t make it, but of course we cannot talk to them. Our database is biased. Survival is no proof of anything; whatever we attribute our continued existence to is a possible explanation. It would be as meaningful to say that there was an intervention by Fairies – it may make us feel better, but feeling that something is the case is not evidence that it was. We invariably argue “post hoc ergo propter hoc”, the common fallacy of arguing, “after this, therefore because of this”

“Look how much we learned”, chimes in the academic from the back of the classroom, “as long as we learned something, doesn’t that make it worthwhile?”.

I guess it depends very much on your perspective.

Besides the fact that this makes the individuals who suffer for the greater Lesson collateral damage for the learning, why is it that we seem to learn nothing as a collective from the events of the past? Why didn’t the Holocaust prevent Rwanda or Darfur? How come we still wage wars, as if there was a potential for somebody gaining from the activity? Why is it that we still have the hopeless imbalances between rich and poor, why is crime growing, why does it seem that the more we learn, the less we seem to be coping?

In many cases, the lesson learnt by some people turns out to be the wrong lesson. The American people, who saw themselves as victims of the 9/11 attack, somehow have not seen that the real lesson was that if you spend decades using economics as a weapon of mass destruction, with the motivating force being control of strategic assets and subjugation of religions which do not agree with yours, someday you’re going to pay the piper…

Shootings at schools seem to teach the lesson that security must be increased. So they bring in Big Brother to monitor the kids, and try to identify the dangerous ones early, rather than change the fundamental ethic driving a superficial, egotistical society in which people are rejected and victimised because they ‘don’t look right’. “Right’ in this case means like the dominant, superficial, mediocre majority.

In addition, it seems that the individual is merely cannon fodder for the Greater Good..

Ask the victims of any disaster or epidemic whether their suffering was ‘worth it’. Perhaps when you’ve experienced loss yourself, you might more soberly view the incredibly good fortune you’ve had to have lived in a comfort zone. For ‘comfort zone’, interpret any place where there is no war raging, where there is no epidemic, few earthquakes, cyclones, hurricanes, tsunamis and volcanoes, enough food, little crime, and no prejudice.

Oh that’s right – there is no such place. Unless you’re wealthy and have built large barricades, I call them Security Blankets, to protect you against life’s ‘thousand natural shocks’, in which case you don’t live in the real world anyway and certainly will not be reading this. Security Blankets take on many forms, among which we find Investments, Insurance, Small Tanks instead of cars, Comfy Jobs, and of course, Walls and Security Systems. The only reason everything’s gonna be okay there is because you’re sequestered. If everything is gonna be okay, why is any of this necessary? Because we know it’s a lie – it’s something we say to others while we make plans to avoid being exposed to all the things that could have the potential to make it NOT okay. The more insecure you are, the bigger the Security Blanket.

If your life in your comfort zone has come at the expense of others halfway across the globe whose lives are barely sustainable, don’t complain to me when the pain reaches your door. I will have no sympathy, in the same way that I have no sympathy for any parasite.

Next you will tell me that you have ‘worked hard’ for what you have, and ‘deserve’ it, as I have been told so many times by people eager to justify their place in the hierarchy of wealth and power, inextricable in their intent and collusion. Do you not think that people who work in mines work ‘hard’, and with scant reward, never mind the health risks and inherent dangers of the job? Hard work on its own does not guarantee success, otherwise the concepts ‘unsung hero’ and ‘moral victor’ would be meaningless. It is because we recognise events in which there is injustice, and know people who do not get their just rewards, that we use these terms, and they are anecdotal evidence that life is unfair. It’s always those who have benefited from a given system that will claim that the world is fair, and that everyone gets what they deserve, having subscribed to an article of faith, since there is no way of knowing that in fact that is the case. It’s really self-justification, using that tired old argument that they used their ‘gifts’ to the best of their ability. But where did the ‘ability’ that was used to harness and exploit the gifts come from? Epicurus had a word to say on the ‘self-made’ myth: “As if they were our own handiwork, we place a high value on our characters”.

Most people suffer from Tiny Universe Syndrome, the idea that Existence revolves around their perceptions and needs. The idea that ‘everything is gonna be okay’ is one of those assumptions that fits in well with little worlds that conform neatly to our pet illusions, as if what’s going on in the human mind is of any consequence whatsoever. The real world is not nearly as bland as that. It’s filled with contradictions and vagueness and grey areas and all the things that make life a challenge and a mystery.

I’m not sure whether even my own life is going to be okay. But having started from zero six times, and having seen life from many perspectives, having been rich and poor, accepted and rejected, healthy and sick, I am happy and thankful that right now, I am okay. In fact I am one of the most fortunate people on the planet, having a place to stay, food to eat, work to do, money coming in, books to read, music to listen to, and something to do with my life.

I do not know what challenges life will bring tomorrow, but I do know this: I will face them with the skills learned and knowledge gained from the times in the past when things were often not okay. And I will attempt to make things better, not only for myself but for others, through applying myself to those challenges, knowing that the only way to influence the future is by taking action in the present. And there is no guarantee that the future will ‘work out’, for life is a precarious activity.

There is only one thing we can say with any certainty, given any given situation:

“This, too, will pass”

It is the immutable nature of change that constitutes the greatest challenge; and it is when we reduce this dynamic to a safe, predictable world where our future is ‘taken care of’ that we make our biggest mistake. Life is sometimes harsh, often unfair, always a strange affair. However it turns out, to some an adventure, to others a moral test, mystery or contest, it’s essence is probably beyond our tiny-minded comprehension.

It means that we have no idea what ‘okay’ means except in an individual sense, specifically our own lives, based on our own criteria, which is rather a self-absorbed lens with which to assess the world. And we have no right to believe that any individual life is significant. The individual becomes significant when their impact on the whole is such that the whole is enhanced. Anything else is merely self-indulgence.

When we look around us, it is clear that everything is NOT okay. When we are willing to step out of our comfort zones to take actions with the intention to alter the forces that keep it so, then perhaps everything will be okay. I say perhaps because it is a huge job and will take many generations.

But it’s not going to be so just because we say it will.




  1. i loved this piece. I used to, well, I still do say that quote “everything’s gonna be alright” even though truthfully I really don’t know if things will be alright. I guess I say that phrase to reassure myself that no matter what I’m going through it could always be 10 times worst and that as long as I’m still breathing and that I see another day, I should be grateful for the life I have. We always need that positive energy to keep us going cause without positivity we’d likely give up on all the challenges in life. If I knew for a fact that tomorrow would be the end of my life, I’d want to stay positive and hold my head up high than curse at the world and die with hate in my soul. That phrase to me, is something I say because even when you don’t know how to fix a problem whether it’s being homeless, being evicted, losing possessions, fighting a disease and the list goes on, you always somehow miraculously find a way to survive, well in most cases you do, well the ones you hear on the news. But life is all about survival. Either you give it your all of you just give up. But to relate back to your entry, I guess you could say that I fall under the category (which is sad to say because why should we all fall under categories?) but if I had to relate myself to one of the mentioned Reality Models, then I’d be under the Religious people. I trust that the one above will guide us through whatever we go through in life… i guess believing that someone is with you throughout the entire step of the way, believing that someone is watching over you and that in the end everything will work itself out is what I’ve grown to accept. I can’t remember thinking like this back in middle school or elementary school even though I went to church more back then, than i do now, so I sometimes wonder when I started? But either way that’s how I keep myself from giving up from all the bumps life throws at me. But lately I’ve been fighting with myself because of the many self issues I’m in the middle of. I feel like by living to reach my dreams and goals I am being selfish in putting myself first knowing that there are others in need that I could lend a hand to and help out. Setting life goals, going to school, graduating college and landing that ideal job is so marketed to my generation as the “ideal” life, that I’ve made my goals for me to reach and to continue to strive for them until I accomplish them. But in that past sentence alone I’ve used so many “I’s” that sound so selfish. But then I’ve been told that that’s not being selfish, because by helping yourself first you can help others greatly. Life is just a big ol’ game I guess. You have your ups, you have your downs, you have your good times and bad, your sad and happy moments, your struggles, problems etc. etc. I guess if we could all just love one another and accept each other and trust each other and basically have that special relationship with one another (like the relationship religious people have with god), then this world would be “alright.” Man this comment can go on and on forever but I guess I should write this in my own blog. Thanks again for posting this! It was a nice gateway for me to let some things out that I’ve been feeling for some time.

    Comment by will — March 22, 2008 @ 6:26 am

  2. Everything is going to be alright. Well, maybe. It seems to me that this statement on it’s own is subject to interpretation and dependant on the direction of ones sight. With a synoptic eye in one rut or other every statment has it’s meaning. When you say that this expression is false or meaningless you are right, at least from the perspective that you are analyzing. Fair enough. But the expression is much more than the sum of the words. They include a whole lesson. One of which allows us to tune our animal survival instincts into a more cerebral human acceptance to go beyond the immediate crises. I have certainly been in situations thinking that it will be alright or saying for the benifit of others while wondering if it realy will. But his too is limited by the circumstances. If we pull back and look at all the ‘hits and misses’ maybe we see that it realy will be alright. I ask “what is the alternative”? To accept on some level (specialy during hardships) that everything will be fine provides comfort and gives us more balance to get through the times as they unfold … but without this toll we are left with fear. The old hook of the slave masters of the masses. Fear will spiral us into the animal-amygdala circle of life/fear/death, whereas hope will give us a better human ability to survive. But then again I am making these comments from my own specific rut of the moment … and from that perspective I include much more that humans into the equation (since your blog seems to be limited only to human perseptions and consequences of a given event (I wonder how much LIFE (of any kind) boomed due to any of the disasters mentioned)). So maybe our math is just a bit incompatible. Oh well, I guess it doesnt matter because everything will be alright for someone or something, anyway.

    Comment by Tony D — May 30, 2008 @ 8:28 am

  3. You’re right Tony it was written from the human perspective and of course when we step back and observe ‘from a distance’ as it were, well then everything will be alright – something always prospers from the demise of something else. But to say that from that perspective is still to say something meaningless, since it is the same as saying that everything won’t be, because there are always at least two sides to the survive/non-survive equation and we are still lost in this existential vacuum.
    You are also correct in saying that the alternative, which may be stoic, taoist or nihilist, may not enable our survival. Does this mean that survival, unequivocally the fundamental prerequisite, is the only realistic viewpoint from which to approach life? Is self-directedness so built into the world that we cannot avoid it, even when thinking about such things as value, that we cannot see or even approach ‘objective’ value because we exist within a framework called individuality?
    In reference to the limited perspective of the article, I think I was trying to focus on the notion that an individual’s life is somehow ‘protected’ by providence or some other equally irrational or incomprehensible or unknown entity or principle and that people who live, and here is the strange thing, both in severe conditions of deprivation and hardship AND in relative comfort zones, believe this premise, and when they do so, are speaking about themselves and their ‘own’ and so the belief itself tells us nothing about the state of reality.

    Comment by justd — May 30, 2008 @ 10:13 am

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