I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I sense that many people think the world works something like this:
If you do good, good things will happen to you.
If you do bad, bad things will happen to you.
The way that you act and the kind of person you are will determine how well or arduously your life goes.
In other words, people reap what they sow. If good things are happening to you, it’s because you did good things. If something bad happened to you, it’s a result of something bad you did. Powerful people are powerful because of the good that they do. Poor people are poor because of the bad decisions they’ve made. Etcetera, etcetera.
But in reality, things frequently go like this:
Bad things happen to people who do good.
Good things happen to people who do bad.
The way that you act and the kind of person you are seems to have little bearing on the enjoyment or difficulties that come your way.
A power-hungry asshole gets the job instead of you–the more intelligent, empathetic person. A benevolent doctor has a career-ending stroke. The corrupt businessman gets a bonus larger than you and fifteen other people will make in your combined lifetimes. You give everything to your significant other, and they leave you for someone else. Things that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy–injury, illness, loss–strike all kinds of people around you.
The only discernible law about how things work is that no matter what kind of person you are, a number of good and bad things will happen to you without much rhyme or reason. Life is frequently unfair. The world is not perfectly karmic. Beautiful, awesome, rewarding things happen. But so do tragic, painful, gut-wrenching things. Sometimes, it’s because of your choices and actions. Other times, it’s pure happenstance. A meaningful and enjoyable life has a lot of luck involved.
So does that mean we should all give up on trying to be better people? If so much is coincidental, shouldn’t we just take as much as we can for ourselves and let other people fend for themselves?
I think it’s actually the opposite. With so much of what makes our lives enjoyable or difficult outside of our control, what we should do is collectively try to bring a little bit of order to the chaos.
We should think about what we can do…
To create support structures that alleviate each other’s suffering and misfortune.
To establish more accountability and transparency–especially with institutions and positions of power.
To ensure that the most vulnerable people have the same basic standard of living as everyone else.
To take care of our mental and physical health so we’re more resilient in the face of adversity.
To be more kind and patient with one another–knowing that each of us is probably struggling through something we didn’t ask for.
How the world works isn’t regularly what we expect or want. It’s up to us to come together and do what we can to make things more just, humane, and enjoyable for everyone.