One day after relocating his family to Boston, Massachusetts, Rabbi Harold Kushner was informed by a local pediatrician that his 3 year old son Aaron would never grow taller than 3 feet and would suffer the symptoms of progeria “rapid aging.” This news threw his entire belief about God out the window.
He would go on to wonder how a God that he had been so loyal to could do such a terrible thing to him. Rabbi Kushner went on to make it his life’s work to explore When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
This is an extreme example, but we all suffer blows in life that seem unfair. After being put in a time-out as a kid, I used to complain to my mom that “It’s just not fair.” She turned to me and said, “Elisha, life’s just not fair.” At the time I thought she was mocking me, but the fact is she was just giving me one of the elementary lessons of life.
It seems to be the case that nature doesn’t discriminate between good and bad, the faithful and the faithless, the criminals and the saints. Otherwise, why do bad things happen to good people?
Why does an entire village get wiped out in a hurricane, were all those people bad? Why does a mother lose her son, why do innocent people die or get injured as they collide with a drunk driver?
When bad things happen to good people, sometimes we find religion, or bargain with God, or maybe just fall into a deep depression at the behest of the saying, “life isn’t fair, it’s never been fair to me and it never will be.”
This doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, it just means that we don’t know why bad things happen to good people. There’s a lot of guesswork out there, but that’s mostly what it is. So, I think the question isn’t why do bad things happen to good people, the question is more aptly, what do we do when bad things happen to good people (or us)?
The bottom line is we need to learn how to be kinder and gentler with ourselves.
This may seem Pollyanna, but it’s actually very practical. When bad things happen sometimes we think we’re being punished in some way, or if trauma is lingering we think there’s something wrong with us leading to greater shame and disappointment.
For example, you may wonder and judge yourself as you still cry after all these years that a trauma has passed. The neural circuitry that got fused together during that trauma is still fused together, so there’s nothing wrong with the tears, it’s just automatic, what gets in the way is the judgments that follow. It’s natural to cry when a trauma button gets pushed, allowing ourselves to feel the emotion and even cradle it as you would a young child in pain can actually nurture self-compassion and self-acceptance.
These are two strengths that can be a git gift that comes out of this.
If bad things have happened to you or are right now, consider intentionally trying to be kinder or more compassionate with yourself. If you that is difficult for you, perhaps find a group or some friends who can be. This may make a world of difference.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Photo by adrian8_8, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 16 Feb 2011