I have suggested in a previous post we live in a Uncertainty and Risk (U&R) like universe (An Organizational Development’s Perspective on Uncertainty and Risk) and why. In this post I will explore my perspectives on why we seem to abhor this reality.
I have observed that when people suffer surprising misfortune, there is a tendency on their part to make the experience explicable through making some form of causal connection. We sometimes do this so we can blame someone (whimsical gods, negligent person, etc.). We do this so we take comfort in being a victim (i.e., it was personal somehow). What we seem to struggle with is the acceptance that “shit happens”.
A universe of U&R is one where random (surprising and inexplicable events occur. A universe of U&R is one where explicable events occur that we had no anticipation of. This last set of circumstances is one where once the event occurs, we are able to see how it did so (we can make a causal explanation of). Only in retrospect are we able to make sense of many things. This is to be expected f we live in a U&R like universe. What is NOT OKAY is to say in retrospect that we “knew” it was going to happen. This is a rationalization pure and simple. If we truly did sense the event, we would have moved to mitigate or avert the event’s consequences.
I often wonder why we seem to “need” to explain something in retrospect so that we can say we were not surprised (when in fact we were).
I distinguish this line of thinking from that of doing a science like diagnosis so that we can be better at anticipating similar events in the future. This is a learning process, the one above is a rationalizing one.
I can understand the appeal of finding a culpable agent after experiencing a distressing event. Making it personal is more comforting than accepting that a U&R like universe is one that has apparent chaos within it. I believe studies of abused children (ones who lived in whimsically abusive households) and prisoners who were held captive by whimsically abusive guards were traumatized by the uncertainty of their future treatment by their tormentors.
So even though we may take comfort in finding rationalizing explanations for experienced U&R events, they are not helpful to us in getting smarter about living successfully in such a universe.
I would suggest that we ask the question: “Is there anyway that we can foresee this sort of event occurring again in the future?” Building a science oriented causal hypothesis which gives us lead time to “head for higher ground” or some similar strategy is helpful and gives us more protection in our lives.
Accepting we were totally caught off guard is helpful in that it clearly tells us that we have limited understanding and knowledge about such events. This acceptance gives us the psychological “welcome mat” to build a stronger theory about this event’s aspect of the universe. developing a stronger theory about such events enables us to act such that we can either head off the event or miss the full impacts of its consequences. A rationalizing: “I knew it all the time.” approach does not encourage us to strengthen our understanding of the world.