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I had a recent discussion with a patient about his wife* who last year suffered an unfortunate accident when a stone went flying off a gravel truck while she was driving on the highway. A pebble hit her windshield with a sudden sharp ‘whack’ which shattered the glass some, which caused her to startle and panic and swerve the car into the next lane where she hit another car. Apparently this cascade of events has resulted in a plethora of lawsuits ranging from the suing the company that owns the truck to the third party who is suing his wife. He explained his spouse was struggling with guilt viz. the stone event was a punishment from karma, Heaven, or whatever. He said “Americans believe we are born entitled to a good life, and when bad things happen we can’t accept it. We slip on some slush and we see it as the fault of others”.

Human beings want meaning in their lives; it is an unacceptable notion things “just happen’. Bad weather is a sign of God’s wrath (remember Pat Robertson’s hurricane hypothesis?). An airplane crash is scrutinized for what caused it – not only to make meaning but to attribute blame.
Is there any more ‘bad luck”?

A woman is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a loose brick falls on her head, and all it is bad luck. It is not the wrath of the gods, or a sign she was a bad person (and therefore she deserved it) or (worse) she somehow attracted this to her for the universe to teach her a lesson. There isn’t a trio of demi-gods spinning her thread destining her to ruin.  It is merely bad luck, with no meaning for it.

People don’t like this. Americans are perhaps more uncomfortable than others on this notion. They want – need? – an explanation.

Psychiatry continues to struggle giving up this belief. The basis of Freudian theory is through analysis you can find the origins and explanations for human feeling and behaviors.  If you have OCD, depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia you spent a lot of time ‘trying to get to the cause”. To not do this was heresy (and I use that word purposely).

Sometimes I counsel patients quit spending any more time trying to solve the mystery why something has happened and focus on what are you going to do about it.

And drop the “I was destined or deserved this” snuffbumble.

We all want meaning in our lives, and we will make up something rather than live without explanation.  Nevertheless it would do us good to sometimes accept something as good or bad luck and leave it at that.  There is no need to sue the manufacturer  of the soap you slipped upon in the shower, nor is there need to attach cosmic judgment or significance to it. You pick yourself up, rub your sore bum, attribute it to bad luck, and remind yourself to put down a rubber mat next time you take a shower why don’t you.

* For privacy sake, I changed the details.

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