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I do not believe that things happen for a reason. Sure there are reasons things happen, but there is no overarching plan.

When terrible things happen, people like to say that “things happen for a reason,” as if there is some plan that made this event necessary. I think people want to believe that their lives mean something, have a destiny, a purpose. They want a reality where every action, breeze, or accident is somehow preordained to ensure that something else will happen in the future.

But for that to be true, the end result must be imagined beforehand. There must be a sum or quotient or outcome that everything leads to.

Where      a + b – c = x  

or in life events, 

grandma dying + you losing your job – you changing the neighbor’s tire = Cubs win the World Series

But I don’t believe that life could possibly work that way. I don’t believe that there is an equal sign in my life or anybody’s. Life is not an equation.

There is no destined or predetermined endpoint. How could there be?

If there were actually a god or some kind of universal being planning everything, then free will would not only be unnecessary but impossible. Every single action would be dictated by the plan. At that point, we would just be pawns in someone else’s game. And I refuse to believe in a universe like that. It doesn’t make sense.

Also, that would mean that this god planned the rape, the miscarriage, the war, the disease, the poverty, and the slavery that lead to our lives. I could not in good conscience respect or worship or even believe in such a being.

Life is not an equation with an equal sign. There is no x at the end of it.

Life is more like a + b – c / f * d + 2 … into infinity from day 1 to day n+1. It never equals anything. It never balances, it never sums. It’s life in all its chaotic, unplanned, unfathomable calculus of infinity.

That should be enough.

Life Without a Plan

Word of the Day: Mensch-iness !!

rachelmankowitz

This past week in the United States has been stressful, for everyone, and because my synagogue school students are part of that everyone, I wanted to focus on teaching a lesson that would reassure them, somewhat, that there are areas of their lives where they really do have some control. And, because I love teaching Yiddish words, the lesson for this week was: what does it mean to be a mensch?

Mensch is a Yiddish word, from German, meaning “human being,” or a person of integrity and honor. The opposite of a mensch is an unmensch, a person treating others cruelly and without compassion, as opposed to the word ubermensch (Nietzsche alert) which is usually translated as “the superman,” someone who is superior to other humans. The word Mensch has gathered a lot of associations in American culture (bearded, male, Jewish) but it really means a person who is…

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Have you ever found yourself glued to the television or following a particular news story, your attention laser-focused on the outcome of the event? Focused as if your life depended on the result or even as if you could influence it? It’s this last belief that I want to address.

It all began with a genuine interest in the dumpster fire that is our president. I then found myself refreshing the news site every few moments to ensure that I had the newest and freshest updates. Events were moving so fast that I couldn’t afford to turn my attention to other things because my attention was needed! The end result required me to stay focused.

Or so I believed. So we all believe to a certain extent.

Some scientists believe that humans have an innate tendency toward religion. I think that it is less about a higher being than our collective ability to influence the world around us. Essentially, an inherent faith in the power of belief or a belief in the power of faith.

However, I believe that this instinct is more a group focus than a religion. We believe that our attention on an event can influence that event. I call this the Attention Effect. It is similar to the Observation Effect in Quantum Mechanics, where “the mere observation of a phenomenon inevitably changes that phenomenon.” The Attention Effect is the belief that “the focused attention of the observer on the phenomenon can influence the phenomenon.” Not only can we change the phenomenon by observing it but can consciously change the result.

“We must have Faith” is another way of saying this. But rather than focusing our attention or faith on a diety to influence events, we have sidestepped the need for a diety with belief in our own ability to directly control events.

The secularization of society has redirected our faith away from religion to other outlets. The news cycle, the drama of social media, sports, the stock market, and currently, in my case, politics need our attention and influence to move in our favor. We have convinced ourselves that we can nudge the events by watching by paying attention.

In my case, politics is much like watching sports. I couldn’t afford to miss a single play because the entire game may hinge on that one moment. I needed to Pay Attention! Because of the Attention Effect!

Rather than a diety, society has turned our superstition to other things. Our institutionalized faith is now focused on the news cycle, sports teams, politics, or a celebrity’s love life. Our attention has been siphoned off, bottled, and monetized. And, yet, still has no effect on events. None…Nada…The same nothing as always. But marketing and capitalism have conspired to give us the warm fuzzy feeling of participation and accomplishment. But it’s illusory. Yes, we participated in a cultural moment, but that moment will ultimately be lost in the static of every other cultural moment.

The hours I spent focusing my attention did not accomplish, influence, or earn me anything.

In the meantime, my novel isn’t finished, I have not mastered German, I still can’t play Crazy Train, and all my goals of youth, of last year and even yesterday are unaccomplished, sacrificed on the altar of attention. If Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci or Shakespeare had had access to the internet, we wouldn’t have the masterpieces they created because they would have been too distracted to do the work. Their attention would have been needed, nay demanded elsewhere.

So, the next time you find yourself glued to the television or the internet for no constructive purpose, TURN IT OFF. Turn it all off and walk away. Get some work done. CREATE!!