It’s what so many young people say in response to accidents, deaths and other misfortunes. I ask them what sense they make of whatever’s happened. What was the purpose? What was the point?
“I don’t know,” says the young person, “but I think that everything happens for a reason.”
We pick away at this, wondering whether natural disasters, human cruelties happen for a reason, whether a relative’s cancer happened for a reason. And if there was a reason, then what was it? Who decided on the reason?
‘Everything happens for a reason’ describes an illusion of intentionality, a world organised and joined up, a world that makes sense because someone somewhere is organising it, making sure that it makes sense. It’s an illusion that needs to be challenged because the consequences for young people can be dire.
Young people are forever wrestling with a sense of agency, with what they can and can’t control in the world, with whether accidents are ever really accidents, with predestination, free will, fate, freedom, the nature of personal responsibility. Sometimes they believe that they can control everything and, at other times, that they can control nothing. It’s hard to accept that they might be able to control some things a little (a very little!) but that so many other things will remain beyond their control. It’s hard when education is offering a different rhetoric. Work hard, work harder, work even harder, says education, and you’ll get to control everything in your life. Embrace democracy, say the politicians, and then you - the people - will have control of everything. Get married, say the clerics, and then your love for each other will be forever under your control with no outside interference.