Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

One of the toughest parts of being a rabbi is that people sometimes turn to me looking for an answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

I know the answer to this question, by the way. The answer is that bad things happen to all people–it’s part of being human. That, however, is not really the question being asked. 

The question being asked is why does it seem that more than my fair share of bad stuff is happening to me? For that, I truly don’t have a satisfying answer, except to listen to the questioner’s troubles. And that is what they need, nine times out of ten. 

Learning that the best thing I can do for someone who is having a hard time is to listen–really hear what they are saying–to them, without trying to “fix” the problem, without trying to make them feel better, just to listen, was tremendously hard. We are taught that value comes from doing, from fixing. Yet the person with the problems knows we cannot fix them. They aren’t asking me to fix them. They want to unburden. Simply telling me about their problems, sharing them with me, lightens the load on them.

The corrolary of this, of course, is that I do take some of the load. Not as much as they give up, but I need some time to recover from their sadness or anguish. But it is important, and work I love–even if not work I enjoy. 

The question “why do bad things happen to good people” is not so much about theology, as it is a request for listening and help. It is a request that we validate the questioner’s experience of life as hard. It is a request that we be there for the person asking the question. 

When bad things happen to good people, good people are given the opportunity to be better people to those experiencing bad things. But in the end, bad things happen because we are human, and that’s what life is about. It’s also why good things happen to good people. It’s how we share these things with each other that really matters.

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I Did It!

There is a certain sense of satisfaction that I get from solving a problem. It almost doesn’t matter what kind of problem it is: debugging a computer connection, figuring out how to help a customer or figuring out a lace pattern. There is a feeling of “I did it, and I’m proud of it” that results.

I’m feeling pretty good at the moment because I just spent 20 minutes helping someone get hooked up to the wireless network. We have a very robust computer network at CubeSpace, both wireless and Ethernet. It is designed to enable people with a wide variety of computers to have access to the Internet and the networked printers. For the most part, it is very successful in that goal. Occasionally, however, people’s computers are set up in a way which prevents access. Usually it takes me less than 5 minutes to get anyone set up. Today, it took 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes is long enough to develop a good head of frustration. And while frustration is not good in and of itself, as a precursor to solving a problem frustration adds to the sense of satisfaction. If a problem is easily solved, there is little achievement in its solution. Having been frustrated by a problem and solving allows a real sense of accomplishment.

While I don’t suggest taking on frustrating problems on a regular basis, solving them is sort of like scratching an itch: it’s almost worth having been itchy just for the satisfaction of having scratched it.