How many times has something happened to you, positive or negative and someone replied back “it was (not) meant to be?” You lose your job. Your dog runs away. You get a raise. You get an unexpected surprise. Odds are really good across the gambit of experiences that someone will respond back to you with that same phrase. But what does it really mean? Who “meant” whatever it is to happen or not happen? Does that phrase hide intentions they perhaps do not want you to be aware of?
Recently I went to great effort to try to rescue a cockatiel in bad need of a home located on the other side of Pennsylvania. As a low vision person, naturally I do not drive and live outside of regional public transit allowing the transportation of a caged bird between cities. So to get the bird, I needed the help of those who do drive.
One local person offered to help me – but only so far as State College. To get the bird I would have to arrange transportation of the bird to State College. I did, only to have the local person unexpectedly and without warning cancel on me 36 hours before the scheduled adoption. The answer as to why? “It just was not meant to be.”
A few days later, another similar opportunity arose. Once more the responses I received were “it wasn’t meant to be,” all of them coming from people close enough to me to help who clearly did not want to. Instead of telling me “no” forthrightly, they all chose to use the cliché to avoid doing so.
The logic here seems to be that if something is not “meant” to be, then are not they excused from helping. After all, if the outcome is truly and objectively unavoidable, then no choice by anyone is capable of altering that outcome.
But is this really the case? What if that person on my end had NOT cancelled? What is the most likely outcome? If she had not cancelled, we would have gone to State College. Assuming the second person kept his bargain, then I would have received the bird. A completely different outcome than what happened that hinged on a choice made by one person.
In other words, the outcome was decided upon by one of the parties involved. A specific person, not fate or deity, made a choice, a choice that easily could have gone differently if that person had wanted it to.
But instead of being straight forward with me and telling me, for example, “The drive is really long and I do not feel up for it, I’m sorry,” I was given “it’s just not meant to be.” This of course both hides the truth and allows the person to not feel responsible for the choices made. It hides her role in the decision making process and therefore allows her to avoid the responsibility for that choice.
But what really seems intriguing to me intellectually is the response back when someone like me sees through this deference of personal responsibility. Instead of owning up to clichéd deceit and admitting “no I do not want to _____,” I have gotten back a bristling “I was just trying to be nice.” Clearly this person was offended I dare insinuate dishonesty in the cliché.
But the cliché is dishonest. We use it to excuse our behavior and avoid telling the truth to people.
I for one would prefer to hear the truth kindly and rationally presented to me. I can respect a polite, “No, I do not want to help” over the alternatives. To me, lying, even indirectly, is a form of disrespect and often insult. Every truth, no matter how difficult, can be gently and respectfully phrased.
I would rather hear the truth than receive a clichéd excuse. I hope you feel the same.