On the randomness of events


I was out and about yesterday, sampling the delights of motorway driving in the rain and thinking about the randomness of life. The news of horrific events in Cumbria a short time ago, (where a taxi driver killed twelve people before taking his own life) has sat heavily in my thoughts. I was driving somewhere when the reports started to come through on the radio. There was an interview with a cyclist who had come face to face with the gunman. Probably still in shock, his attempt to make sense of the bizarre scene was telling; this was beyond anyone’s understanding. The media’s search for a motive, some way of explaining the events, felt relentless, but necessary. We had to make sense of the situation.

In far less extreme circumstances, I believe that we have a need to process such random events on an everyday basis, to try and make sense of the chaos. We seem to need a story, some kind of a narrative, that puts the things that happen to us into a context. We try to impose some structure on what would otherwise be chaos. We do this all the time: a CV is a story we make to link together disparate parts of our work history.

Last week, I had a meeting over coffee at the Manchester Art Gallery. It turned out that an exhibition of work by Dorothy Bohm was on. I’d only discovered her work by chance shortly before, and blogged about a quote of hers I’d found. Serendipity? These co-incidences seem to happen all the time.

Or is there a simpler explanation? Rebecca Webber writes an interesting piece in Psychology Today magazine. She argues that if our ‘antennae’ are sensitive enough, we are ready to pick up on such random events more readily, and make sense of them as fitting into our particular story. Personality also plays a part, with extraverts more likely to meet more people and so find more significant connections. In finding just the right job or the right partner, luck seems to play a huge role. How we perceive the event when it is presented to us is the key. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201005/make-your-own-luck

My sympathies go out to the community in Cumbria, who may never be able to make sense of recent events.


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