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  • Bob Ginsberg


Most parents can relate to the why game that they played with their child. The child wants an explanation for something and asks a question. The parent answers the question, which is followed by another why, and the pattern continues to evolve in a never-ending exercise in futility. We appear to be hard wired from the start to want answers as to why things occur.

One can argue that such inquisitiveness is what keeps us moving forward as a species. If medical science can figure out why people get certain diseases, they can take steps towards finding a cure. If a plane crashes and we can figure out the cause, we can correct the problem and save lives. If your friend stops talking to you and you can find out the reason, perhaps the relationship can be restored. However, from a philosophical or spiritual perspective, asking why can be an unproductive exercise that is detrimental to one’s health and well-being.

There are certain why questions, specifically pertaining to meaning, that are most often asked. At the top of the list is why a loving God would allow six million people die unspeakable deaths in the holocaust. Religious and spiritual answers to that question vary. One answer often given is that all those people made “contracts” in a previous life and dying in this manner was predetermined and needed for completion of our greater soul. Another answer is that free-will dominates in the physical world and the event was the result of choices made by the oppressors and the oppressed. What I believe is that the answer to the why question is that this universe was designed in a perfect state, but after creation the designer became solely and observer and never interferes. Of course, the religious community bristles at such a theory, as they believe that God is part of our life daily and is always guiding us. I believe that physical life is random and chaotic, and that is part of the design. There is no “why.” Our greed, our quest for power, our egoism, and our love and compassion plays a role in our own lives and that of humankind. However, sometimes pure luck and circumstance change everything. A God would not be happy with things such as the holocaust, or death of a child, or the daily atrocities and wars that occur, but we, both individually and collectively, make our own bed.

On the other hand, I do believe that there are certain synchronicities that occur, as the universe has a connective force that sometimes results in organization. That is why often seemingly disparate occurrences happen that come together to form meaning. I also believe that our consciousness survives our physical death, and those in the next realm can attempt to communicate and guide us. After this physical experiment and learning experience is over, perhaps we then reflect on how we handled the challenges that were put before us, and that is when everything makes sense and the why questions become clear.

We need to find balance in our lives. Some things demand investigation and a search for why they happened. Conversely, other happenings are simply meant to be experienced for what they are. In other words, there is no need to reason or judge but just contemplate and live in the moment. I don’t need to know the reason that a snowflake dances and swirls in the moonlight until it reaches my hand and turns into a tear. Or why the lake turns to gold as the sun begins to set, or why a child smiles at me for no apparent reason. Dissecting such moments as opposed to simply observing and taking them in would diminish the sacredness of the experience.

We are too often paralyzed by questioning why our loved one died, why we got an illness, why our luck is so bad……all things beyond our control. There are times when we must surrender, accept, and try to use misfortune as a catalyst for uncovering our own meaning and purpose. I know that many people prefer to attribute life circumstance to fate or a greater power. It releases them from responsibility for their actions and provides some comfort believing that all things happen for a reason. However, as one who has experienced great joy and devastating loss and hardship in my life, and despite all that I have learned about science and spirituality, I remain convinced that this earthly experience is a mixture of random shit and joy. Our purpose here is to react, adapt, and experience. The chaos ends when we move on to another realm of existence after physical death, a place where all the why questions are answered, and the patterns become evident.

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May 20, 2022

Beautiful post. We are meaning-making mammals. We want to live in a story that makes sense, that satisfies our reason. We also hope that this story gives us some comfort and makes us feel at home in the universe and at peace with ourselves. Yet we are also truth-seeking souls, and often the truth disturbs our sense of rational order and our desire for comfort. There is randomness and inscrutability. One of my favorite quotes is a line from a poem by W.H. Auden: “We are lived by powers we pretend to understand.” Indeed.


May 20, 2022

Well spoken!

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