I BEGIN WITH A STORY
This is a true story of happenings several years ago now. A friend of mine, I’ll call her Mary, was driving along a country road and unfortunately ended up with her car upside down in a field, leaking fuel and with the engine still running. The first person on the scene was a fire officer. He had been just behind her on the road. He knew exactly what to do, as in switch that engine off and get access to Mary as he called for back-up. He succeeded in opening the jammed door as the second person arrived – a nurse. Mary had no pulse, was not breathing. Due to the hot engine and leaking fuel, it was essential to get her out of and away from the car, despite the rather high risk of her having damaged her back. A quick judgement call as in a blog from two weeks ago. Between them, they did this with her neck and head being as well protected and supported as they could. The two of them then carried out CPR until the ambulance arrived.
Against the odds, Mary survived. She was in a coma for many weeks. Healing was a long, slow process but with lots of physio to help overcome her physical injuries, she made a recovery well beyond what was expected.
Cut to two years later. We were having a party, which was well underway. A recently made friend arrived late as she had been working – as a nurse. She was obviously very shaken and asked if I knew the owner of one of the cars parked along the road. Whilst she didn’t recognise the car, she said that the very distinctive personalised number plate was etched in her mind and she told me of her part at that accident two years ago. Did I know the lady – as she had never learnt if she had survived as she had been taken to a specialist hospital. I said that I did know her and that she was here and looking good.
I took my nurse friend up to my bedroom, away from the noise and bustle of the party. I went back down to find Mary’s husband and explain what had just happened and did he feel that Mary was up to meeting the woman who had played such a large part in her surviving. The answer was a categorical yes. We brought Mary out from the party and explained who was upstairs. We took her upstairs. No introductions were needed as the two women immediately hugged and sobbed in equal parts. We closed the door and left them, with a box of tissues, to get to know each other.
Was it coincidence that led to those two specific cars following Mary? Was it fate that I then met and became friends with the nurse. Had that car been parked round the corner, she wouldn’t have seen the number plate – was that another coincidence? I wonder if she would have recognised Mary in such different circumstances, or would that very precious meeting have slipped through the sliding door of almost, but not quite, happening? Something that must happen on so very many occasions with opportunities narrowly missed, opportunities that could have had long and lasting effects for good, bad or insignificant indifference.
How many times do we hear people telling of their near misses – those who usually travelled down a particular road at the same time each day. A place where and when a major accident had recently happened. On the fateful day in question, they had had to take a different route, maybe for something as simple as they had to fill up with petrol, or had left earlier or later than was consistently their norm.
Or that someone who had missed their flight, and the plane had crashed with disastrous consequences. Just one of those things? Were they just lucky? Or what?
SO, WERE THESE COINCIDENCES, OR DID LUCK PLAY A PART?
What of that luck…
I have to say that of all of the synonyms included, luck isn’t one that sits well with me. I feel that people often blame bad luck, rather than maybe poor choices, or a lack of effort for negative outcomes. It can click into being their default setting as – ‘poor me, I always have bad luck’. I have worked with quite a few clients who presented with this setting and for them, it had become a self-fulfilling prophesy supported by a whole heap of negative self-messages.
Considering coincidence …
Coincidence errs on the side of ‘it’ – whatever ‘it’ is – being unplanned and completely accidental, as when two or more events, of great similarity, occur at a particular time and/or place seemingly by chance. Because of this element of chance, I personally, tend to choose to use the word for smaller happenings such as arriving at a friend’s birthday with the same gift as another friend.
Having said that, coincidence is a word used in subjects such as statistics, science and maths to explain certain outcomes and unrelated events happening under certain circumstances. I have memories looming, all be they vague ones, of Probability Theory and random variables being tied in there somewhere, but that is a door that I will not be walking through again. It befuddled me then and I am sure it would befuddle me even more so now!
Instead of luck or coincidence, maybe it was fate, destiny, divine intervention, chance, synchronicity or a word that fits more comfortably for you and your beliefs?
Each of these words indicate something that seemingly cannot be controlled by people. As in que sera sera, kismet, written in the stars? An inevitability that certain things will be what they will be and cannot be altered. Maybe at different times, under different circumstances all of the above come in to play. The words become interchangeable whilst not actually completely synonymous. Let’s look at each in a bit more detail.
Considering fate …
Fate is used to describe something felt to be unchangeable; predetermined or planned by such as a supernatural power. It is considered to include past happenings and events influencing current happenings, but surely we still need to take responsibility for things in our lives at present? Again, as with luck, I feel that for some, it’s the shoulder shrug and ‘it’s fate’ accompanying a poorly made choice as that cop out, that all too readily used excuse.
Followers of Hinduism believe that our fate is as a result of not only your present life, but also of a past life or lives too. Maybe as in Newton’s Third Law of Motion - ‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’? Part of a consideration that there is a natural order of which we and the things that happen to us form an integral part. An order that goes beyond our little circle, our planet to include the universe? An order that is unchangeable. I admit to finding this concept extremely concerning with the way that politics seems to be developing throughout the world – is this all part of an inevitability and if so, where is that inevitability leading us? I always had a belief in fate having played a part in some of the happenings throughout my life, but this upgrading of fate is a whole other issue for me.
Considering destiny …
Destiny is felt to be a word that is similar to fate although with the possibility of there being room for choices. Where there is room for choices, there is room for changes to be made, so this sits more comfortably with me. There is room for learning from those past events. Using that learning to allow for growth, on a personal level, hopefully as well as at a level scaled up to a national and international one. This concept gives me greater hope that qualities such as kindness, consideration for others, love of those who do not have the thrusting elbows and loud voices demanding to be heard may stand a chance. It feels so much more positive and hopeful than the concept of fate, so this will now be my turn-to-word to be associated with events, coincidences. Allowing for reflecting back, being in the present but also looking forward.
Considering divine intervention …
Those who possess a faith may believe in divine intervention. An intervention made by a deity that leads to something good happening or prevents something bad happening. Maybe those with a faith would describe the aftermath of Mary’s accident as a divine intervention. Whereas most atheists, agnostics would probably choose one of the previous alternatives.
My final word offering is –
I felt that I needed to touch base with his alternative, though it is a concept which requires more than a few of my words in order to fully grasp just what Jung and others believe to be the concept of synchronicity.
The concept was introduced by Carl Jung, with Wikipedia stating that it ‘holds that events are "meaningful coincidences" if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related.’ I have to say that I struggle to not tie myself into knots with that seemingly simple explanation. Wikipedia does add that ‘During his career, Jung furnished several different definitions of it.’ I wonder if this is because others besides myself struggled with the original?
HORSES FOR COURSES
With so many options available for us to use, is it down to horses for courses?
Whilst some of us will stick to a preferred choice, others will use different words to explain different happenings, dependent on how much, how deeply, they have been affected or influenced by events.
We need to bear in mind that bad things happen to good people and vice versa, so this too could influence whether we use coincidence, fate, destiny – or throwing another word into the melting pot, could it be karma, then again what of chance?
Could it all be down to semantics? Or maybe a matter including philosophy, psychology, science, maths, beliefs.
Researchers in the field of neurobiology have found that if there is a rise in the level of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, that we tend to see patterns which we otherwise wouldn’t. Does our choice depend on what is happening with those levels of dopamine having hidden implications? Implications that can affect both our physical and mental well-being to a greater degree than is currently recognized?
Such considerations go back as far as Hippocrates, who in his consideration of fate and coincidences stated that he felt there were ‘hidden affinities’; that there were natural laws giving explanations – he didn’t know what these were then, and I guess it continues to be a work in progress.
There remains so much about ourselves, our influences on the people and the world around us that is still a topic of research and debate. We are complex beings, part of a complex, though inter-linked world and presumably universe. The more that science, under any label, delves inwards into our minds and bodies and thrusts outwards into that universe, questions will be answered whilst more questions will be raised.
In the meantime, we will probably continue to see meaning in things that are mere coincidences whilst we will miss when there are actually links between happenings. That’s life I guess…. and it would be boring if we got it right all of the time.
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