I previously wrote a post for one of my other blogs about the idea that everything happens for a reason. There are a couple of odd things about this notion. For one, we tend to apply it only to unpleasant events and not to pleasant ones. For another, it carries an implication that the bad thing that has happened will in some mysterious way lead to something good.
Horrendous things do happen in the world, and everything happens for a reason is a proverb that’s meant to comfort. But it’s indicative of a worldview that bears examining. For one thing, it can be used as a palliative response that ignores the underlying cause of the situation or event, in which case it’s worse than useless.
Many of us habitually explain our current difficulties, bad habits, negative outlook, or troublesome behavior by referring back to our childhoods or other events from the past. Negative traits, behaviors, circumstances, or events require some kind of an explanation, even if it’s the not very satisfactory everything happens for a reason.
But how often do we explain our present good fortune, good habits, positive outlook, or admirable behavior by referring back to our childhoods or events from our past? We may recognize and even acknowledge luck and the kindness and generosity of others when we’re treated to it. But by and large, we don’t look for explanations for our positive traits, behaviors, or circumstances. We expect the good stuff; the bad stuff is an aberration.
Are you prompt, kind, generous, trustworthy, responsible, productive, optimistic, helpful, imaginative, creative, insightful, cheerful, broad-minded, well-read, accomplished or successful (at anything), happy, healthy, generally law-abiding, thoughtful, courageous, tolerant, objective, conscientious, or cooperative? Whatever positive characteristics you have, do you spend much time questioning how you got them?
THE WAY WE ARE
One of the great benefits of the Enneagram is that it shows us that, to a significant extent, we are the way we are because…that’s just the way we are. We were born with the temperament and the tendencies we have. It’s easy to give up the search for explanations for what we thought were our own individual quirks and proclivities once we discover how many other people who have very little, if anything, in common with us also have the very same quirks and proclivities.
When we give up the exhausting, stuck-in-place examination into our backgrounds to try to figure out why we are the way we are, we can begin to accept what and who we are and go on from there.
I wonder if we might not achieve the same result by starting to look for explanations not for the negative but for everything positive in ourselves and in our lives. I’m not talking about being grateful. I’m not advocating always looking on the bright side or maintaining a positive attitude. I’m suggesting we analyze everything that’s positive the same way we habitually analyze the things we define as negative as a way to break out of the habit of looking for explanations. Unless we’re really and truly trying to understand something and/or learn from an experience, simply trying to figure out why something is what it is isn’t particularly fruitful.
Focusing our attention on explaining the negative stuff leads to taking the stuff that’s OK—or even really good—for granted or assigning it less value than we assign the negative stuff. The underlying assumption is that good (at least our definition of it) should be the steady state and therefore good requires no examination. If things are not good, however, someone or something is to blame.
Most of us know from experience that observing ourselves without judgment, blame, or searching for explanations doesn’t come naturally. And the habit of judging, blaming, and searching for explanations extends outward into the world. But isn’t there anything better–or more product or even more enjoyable–that we could be doing with all the time, attention, and energy we spend on these futile activities?
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This is an interesting way to think about things. It comes so naturally to do that judging and explaning thing, but from the perspective you offer in terms of assigning value. That really adds a new dimension of looking at things. Why, with out actions and attention, do we give more attention to the negative in our lives than to the positive? It reminds me of how we respond to compliments and criticisms. We tend to discount the good and dwell on the negative. It takes seven good comments to undo the “damage” of one negative one? I’m not sure that’s the exact number, but still, this is definitely food for thought.
It seems like we do this as individuals–scrutinize the negative–as well as as a society. Individually, Enneagram type comes into play because we don’t all define the same experiences and situations as negative–or at least we don’t all judge them to be the same degree of negative. So it might also be helpful to pay attention to what (conditions, situations, events) we experience as negative.