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Reason, What Reason

There’s something insidious and rather disturbing about some of the personal empowerment material I have encountered.

I actually find some of it dis-empowering because it seems to require that I give myself over to some higher purpose that is beyond my understanding and beyond my control.

I want to find more reasons to be cheerful and to feel that even though I may not be in control of all events, I am not helpless and nor am I a puppet.

Take 1.

 There is a movement in coaching, counselling and personal development that has at its heart a fundamental belief that ‘all things happen for a reason’.

 How often have you heard personal development gurus say: “this is a test, designed and sent to you to prove that you are up to the task”, or even more irritatingly, “bad things happen to people who are best placed to deal with them”? The idea here is the presupposition that there are higher (possibly supernatural) forces at work which are manufacturing the events and circumstances of our lives. That is, the tests are being chosen for us.

 My concern is that statements like this demonstrate how personal and professional

development has been turned unwittingly into a religious mantra:  its dogma sneaked in by the back door.You only have to attend one of the many mass seminars and personal empowerment events held in large convention centres across the world to see hysteria more reminiscent of a Billy Graham rally. There’s little difference between the evangelising of Graham and the cultish charisma of these motivational gurus.

 Please don’t assume I am religion-intolerant. I don’t have a problem with religion or a person’s right to practice their faith. I’m up for a bit of mass-hysteria sometimes as well. But I like my religion honest and straight up. I don’t want it masquerading as something else, like personal development.

 So, I’d like to offer an alternative view to the notion of things happening for a reason. It’s a view that I find much more empowering.

Take 2.

 Is it true that all things happen FOR a reason? Or do we come up with reasons why things happen to help explain them, make sense of them and deal with them? We apply the reason where no reason previously existed.

 Events happen. Sometimes our actions precipitate those events, and often those events occur with or without our help.

 The only rationale that is valid in these circumstances is the rationale of cause and effect, often we are not the cause. To suggest that the events are part of some other-wordly master-plan for us isn’t helpful. It reduces us to mere puppets; it feasts on the concept of punishment; it perpetually reminds us that we are powerless in the face of an omnipotent (and potentially malicious) being.

 Our characters are influenced by the events we experience, but it isn’t the events themselves that shape us. It’s our response to those events. The events are invariably neither deserved nor undeserved. They are just events; they are what they are: some good, some bad, and some neither here-nor-there. But the way we interpret those events and derive learning or value from them, ultimately defines who we are and what we become. Our response is a demonstration of our character.

 There is nothing positive in an event such as the death of a child, or the annihilation of an ethnic group. It is morally repugnant to justify these things in any way. And yet they happen to innocent and blameless souls. What possible reason could there be for such things? Who would wish to rain down such suffering just as a test?

 But these things do happen, and we live through them. They are meaningless in and of themselves.

We experience these events and others like them, and some people crumble under their enormity. Other people find strength they never knew they had. They learn such powerful lessons that it shapes the way they live their lives for the rest of their lives. They detoxify all the horror, pain and suffering from that experience and convert it into something else. They may never forget the experience, but they use it as a springboard for different and more constructive experiences. Other people relegate the experience to the darkest recesses of their minds and never ever refer to it again (although it subtly plays out in the background of their lives).

 What we all do is exercise our capacity and freedom to choose how we will respond.  It’s our response, even though we may have had no freedom to prevent the event.

 The fact that as human beings we have this wonderful capacity to recover from atrocity, does not justify atrocity. A situation will test us: our resolve, our capability, our emotional state. But to imply that the test was deliberately set by something or someone for that purpose is to create a state of fear and anxiety which is unhealthy. It has the capacity to numb us, enfeeble and denigrate us.


 Personal Development is all about personal choice and how much freedom we feel we have to choose. We know that we cannot always choose the event, but we also know that our response will be uniquely our own, and could influence future events.

 We know that whatever we do, stuff will happen beyond our desire or control! We don’t also need to be told that someone is deliberately doing it to us! How empowering is that??

 ©Tim Lambert

January 2013

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