Are Random Acts of Kindness Really Random?
A fellow named Forrest Gump once pondered one of life's basic questions:
"I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time."
Is there a grand plan for each of us? Are the events of our lives predetermined by a higher being? Or, as Gump wondered, is life just one giant random walk, with the plot being made up as we go along? It's a fascinating question. I am sure that you would not be surprised to learn that there are entire schools of thought devoted to this concept called synchronicity, first articulated by Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung in the 1920s.
"Synchronicity is the occurrence of two events that are not linked causally, nor linked teleologically, yet are meaningfully related. Once, a client was describing a dream involving a scarab beetle when, at that very instant, a very similar beetle flew into the window. Often, people dream about something, like the death of a loved one, and find the next morning that their loved one did, in fact, die at about that time. Sometimes people pick up he phone to call a friend, only to find that their friend is already on the line. Most psychologists would call these things coincidences, or try to show how they are more likely to occur than we think. Jung believed they were indications of how we are connected, with our fellow humans and with nature in general, through the collective unconscious."
– Dr. C. George Boeree
It sounds as though Dr. Boeree is describing what in "Star Wars" parlance is known as "The Force," doesn't it? Simply put, synchronicity is the result of two seemingly unrelated events producing a meaningful consequence. I go back and forth on the idea of synchronicity because I believe that those who claim that everything in life is predetermined are absolving themselves of the consequences of their actions. If everything is predetermined, how can we be blamed for the mistakes we make? However, believing that all life is chance would imply that one does not believe in God and I certainly don't want to do that. There is, after all, very little upside in disavowing a belief in a supreme being and lots and lots of potential downside.
Do things happen for a reason? Ask my friend Angie Godfrey and she will tell you that they do. Here's her story, as related in a Facebook post this morning:
So I told her I wanted to take her home and she let me. Her and her mother lived alone in an apartment behind 7-11. Her mom has a degree but lost her job almost a year ago to layoffs. She then found out she had a tumor in her foot and can't walk very well. She is still living in the apartment but they are getting evicted next month. She is still waiting on disability but with the issues now she may not get it for a few more months.
Angie, who has had her own struggles but is grateful for the help she once received, has put a human face on suffering that for many of us is an abstract concept. You may not see it, but it's happening. The teenage child of a college-educated parent is dumpster-diving for food in America? How can we proclaim the greatness of this country when people like this routinely fall through society's cracks? How can we send billions of dollars in aid to other countries each year yet ignore the suffering of our own citizens? Certainly there are people in this country whose problems are of their own making, but there are also people like this woman and her daughter, beset by misfortune and caught in a vortex of suffering not of their own making and from which there seems to be little chance of escape.
Until Angie decided that she needed a V-8.
Is it synchronicity that it was big-hearted Angie who saw this girl and not some other, less compassionate, person? Is it synchronicity that I visited with Angie last weekend for the first time since we were 7th graders and that I have this blog and can use it to spread the word of Angie's good work? It would appear that these seemingly random occurrences have turned out to be "meaningfully related."
We are not hard-hearted but many of us do not know how to get involved or are distrustful of any big organization's efforts to effectively allocate our donated resources. We all know that government-administered programs are supremely wasteful and inefficient. We do not necessarily want credit for our generosity but we do want to know that our good intentions are not being squandered. When we can get right at the problem, when the abstract concept of human suffering is crystallized for us as Angie has done here, we do get involved. Included in the 49 responses to Angie's post are offers of financial assistance, lodging, food, clothing and school supplies. Angie humanized the abstract and her friends have responded in overwhelming fashion.
She is working hard to help this family. She is organizing a car wash to raise funds for the rent on an apartment she has a lead on and she has talked to her boss about hiring this woman part time to do some accounting. She collected some money and went to get the power turned back on at the place where they currently live. She is doing the heavy lifting. She is paying it forward. Apparently, these people have nothing, not even a bottle of ketchup. Their needs are immense.
Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in helping. Synchronicity.