When I was eight years old, my mother brought me hiking in the mountains of Shitou, Taiwan. Trudging up dirt paths through shrubbery, she talked about her experiences in the countryside as a child. After about three hours, I could see the worry in her face. Sundown was quickly approaching and we were completely lost. Luckily, we saw a policeman on a motorcycle and stopped him for directions. He pointed us down a road and said it was only about 30 minutes away to the city and then sped off. Another hour passed and my mom was nearing exhaustion. Drinking what little water we had left, we sat on a rock and contemplated our next move. And then we saw them.
Putt-putting up on a moped was an elderly couple. Their faces were weathered with life and beaded with sweat in the humidity and they pulled over to us without hesitation. After a quick conversation with my mother in Taiwanese, the local farmer informed us that we were at least another 30 minutes away by motorcycle and was confused that the policeman had led us the wrong way. He walked over to his wife, kissed her on the cheek and told us that he would bring us to town and come back later to get her. As much as we protested, he refused to take no for an answer, so with my arms around this new friend and my mother behind me, we sputtered off towards the city.
I don’t remember much from my childhood. It might be from the massive amount of head trauma I had as a rowdy kid or just because I have a bad memory, but this moment has never escaped my mind. Even at a young age, I understood the serendipitous nature of this farmer’s act of kindness and how I could have possibly never left that mountain. Which leads me to the ultimate question: does everything happen for a reason?
Regardless of your religious convictions, there are a good number of us who believe in destiny. A sense that we are all here to discover our purpose in this ever changing world. A sense that we’re living in a choose-your-own-adventure book and that every decision is pivotal in shaping our worth. A sense that we are meant to be here. Lessons are handed down daily by God, Allah, Buddha, or the universe so we can achieve our highest potentials as human beings, but it all comes down to choice. But this choice isn’t your proverbial Matrix reference of the blue pill or the red pill. In my opinion, those choices are like an old farming couple on a scooter. That’s just leaving life completely up to chance and hoping that the result is favorable. The results in that case are uncontrollable.
Your choice lies in the simple idea that you have the option of choosing your reaction.
For instance, you’re in a crowded bar on a Friday night. Squished into a small corner by the bathroom, you and your friends are taking shots and enjoying what the night has to offer. Enter drunk guy stumbling towards the bathroom, spilling his vodka all over you as he rushes to hug a toilet. You have a few options here:
- A) Grab him by the hair and tell his face to say happy birthday to the ground
- B) Alert the bouncer who eats steroids instead of Altoids to kick him out
- C) Make your stank face, get some napkins, and move on with your life
- D) Find out who he’s with and make sure he has a ride home
These are all viable actions but lets look at the likely results for each decision.
- A: You’ll probably get arrested. Plus, he might have lice and jail isn’t the place to have lice.
- B: Nobody likes a snitch. You have no idea who he’s rolling with and they could be friends with above mentioned toid-popping bouncer.
- C: You’ll look like a man whose skin likes to cry profusely after a Jazzercise class.
- D: You look like a genuinely nice guy to a guy who might have genuinely cute friends.
I don’t really care what you chose. It’s irrelevant to how you remember this moment. What’s going to stick is the look on the bloody face of the guy you just plastered all over the tiled floor and the unavoidable feeling of guilt. Or maybe it’s the feeling of bitterness of going to the dry cleaners the next day for your favorite shirt that smells like cheap Russian water (vodka is water there right?). Or it’s that smile that spreads into your soul when someone thanks you for looking out for their mess of a friend and offers you money to get some new clothes.
There have been numerous studies that have proven that autobiographical events which trigger strong emotions are much more vividly recalled than neutral ones. How we feel dictates how we remember certain moments because our brain will associate it with the last time it felt that way.
So, does everything happen for a reason? Are all the reactive emotions from these seemingly trivial occurrences integral to our growth as a person? You have the option of reacting positively to every decision you make. Whether the outcome is favorable or not, you have the power of perspective. And for that reason alone, everything can happen for a reason. They say a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it, so realize that you don’t make mistakes. You just have lots of lessons. Experience every emotion because it’s vital to the cultivation of your soul. Happiness and sadness come hand in hand and you can’t claim to know the value of one without its polar opposite.
If you were to ask me how many miles I walked and what kind of plants I saw that day in Shitou, I wouldn’t be able to answer you. Ask me the name of the farmer’s wife and I’ll just shrug. But, ask me at what age I was taught the value of generosity and I’ll tell you it was since that day on that mountain with a farmer who planted a lesson that I’ve never forgotten.