Archive for Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Certainly there’s more to life than coincidence

July 7, 2009

I’ve been thinking about the importance of timing in our lives.

At least to the extent that events act on us, rather than the other way around, a great deal of what happens to us is just the result of being in a certain place at a certain time.

Look through any day’s record of mishap and mayhem, and I think you’ll find that a substantial proportion of the victims were injured, not because of some action they took, but because they had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Think about it. Suppose you come upon an accident on the highway. Two vehicles have collided. Obviously, if either of the vehicles had not been in that location at that precise time – and the difference here often is in millimeters and milliseconds – there would have been no accident.

I don’t necessarily mean that we’re all prisoners of fate. Certainly, by our own actions we can have a big impact on our lives. But I think it’s probably useful to remember that some of what happens is beyond our control. That’s humbling.

I got to thinking about this topic of timing and coincidence because of something that happened the other day. The wife and I had been out keeping our money in circulation (read: shopping), and, as a last stop on the way home, stopped off at the grocery store.

We made our purchases and headed back to the car. There, as we were leaving the store, I ran into an old friend.

We had worked together 30 or more years ago, and had sort of drifted in and out of each other’s lives over the years. I think the last time I’d seen him was eight years ago. Then he moved out of town and we lost touch. The last I’d heard, from a mutual acquaintance that I coincidentally ran into at a conference about five years ago in Seattle, was that he was working for the government in Washington. Then I looked up walking out of the grocery store, and there he was. It turned out that he’s moved back to town.

Obviously this meeting was a coincidence. If either of us had failed to be at that particular point in the space-time continuum, we’d not have had that meeting.

Certainly there is more to our lives than just coincidence. Much that happens to us is the result of what we do, of the actions that we take to control our fate or destiny or whatever you choose to call it.

But I think we have a tendency to overvalue our own contribution. As we look back on our lives, we think of what happened as a result of what we did. We tend to forget about the timing – about what happened just because we were in the right place at the right time – or, sadly, the reverse.

Fictional detectives may not believe in coincidence, but I’m not sure that coincidence isn’t just another word for spontaneity.

Here are a few quotations about coincidence:

“When you live your life with an appreciation of coincidences and their meanings, you connect with the underlying field of infinite possibilities.” – Deepak Chopra

“If you do something once, people will call it an accident. If you do it twice, they call it a coincidence. But do it a third time and you’ve just proven a natural law.” – Grace Murray.

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” – Albert Einstein

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