There is a common form of thinking about life – if I am careful and do everything “right” then nothing bad will/can happen – which is clearly magical thinking.
Teens exhibit this behavior a lot when they tell their parents not to worry because “nothing bad is going to happen.” They go off sure of themselves, that simply by doing the right thing, or even by intending to do the right thing, or by assuming they won’t do the wrong thing, that everything will be alright. Some say it is why we send young people off to war – the old codgers know how badly things can go for the right.
And teens are often stunned by how badly things can go.
But it is not only teens who have this thinking, for it carries into adulthood for many. If only I am “good” everything will be alright. How astonished people are when bad things happen anyway. How angry they are at God and the world when things go wrong.
This magical thinking causes them to believe that God must protect them if they do no wrong, or if they haven’t imagined that something could go wrong. Yet they have car accidents, and people get injured, all because they are sure that nothing bad will happen. How many people have been shot or shot someone because they didn’t think the gun was loaded? Nothing bad can happen if you don’t intend to do wrong – right?
But it is purely magical thinking to imagine that accidents don’t happen if you are doing everything “right.” Or to imagine that Tsunamis and earthquakes and accidental needle stabs don’t happen.
Some however go through life imagining that their “good” behavior is somehow controlling the universe and keeping evil at bay. In teens this is dangerous because they can’t foresee that bad things might happen anyway. Be as cautious as you want, but the guy approaching you from the right may be a wild card in the game of life.
I think the difference between teens who get into lots of trouble and those who don’t lies in the caution that some learn – bad things can happen even if you are trying to do right, so be alert and be cautious; no matter what your intentions are be a defensive driver. I don’t much believe in luck, though a few seem to get more than a fair share of “passes” in life. And for some as the song says, if it weren’t for bad luck they’d have no luck at all. But it also seems like they have a harder time foreseeing some of the bad things that can happen no matter how “right” you are being.
I’m not saying that “being good” is of no value. It is of the utmost value, but it is not magic. But many forces in life and many people on earth do not subscribe to its power and the rest of us do not live in a vaccuum.
It is a hard lesson to realize that I am not in control of the universe – that not everything and everyone is relying on me not to be wrong, not to make a mistake. And it is also true that decisions we make do impact what happens. “Sh-t happens” – something alcoholics do not connect to their own behavior. But our intentions and our being right are not the magic that control the universe, even though they can have some influence on a small scale, and even when we can get well into old age imagining that we can ward off evil simply by doing things right. But read history – invasions happen, so too civil war, floods, fire, plagues and untimely/unprepared for death.
Being good and choosing the right have their own value – eternally as well as for society. They are however not magic. An individual’s having good intentions, following all the rules and not doing anything wrong are in fact valuable for people and relationships and the world. But they are not an infallible and omnipotent magic that can control all the forces and all the people of the planet.