(ed note – As Stan and Lacey have both pointed out in the comments, I am not referring to the actual ancient idea of karma when I talk about karma here, but the more common use of the word in modern society, which seems to be based more on the idea of instant karma, where good things happen when you perform good acts, and bad things when you do something bad. That is the idea I am offended by as a survivor of childhood abuse, which I could not possibly have “deserved”. I apologize to anyone who has felt like I was mocking a spiritual belief. As many of you know, I try very hard not to do that here, but in this case I did by not properly defining the term I was using, and I am sorry.)
You see a lot about karma these days. Most people seem to think of karma as a not-religious-specific god-like character that makes sure that it all comes out even in the end, although it does have a religious background. It’s a nice idea. If you’re basically a good person, karma will reward you, and if you’re not, karma can be b*&^h, right?
It’s all a bunch of crap.
Clearly, we all want to believe that life is basically fair. The thought that it isn’t fair is terrifying to us. We rail loudly for fairness and justice, because we value those things. We deeply want people to be rewarded to the good that they do, and punished for the bad. It’s part of who we are, and part of what makes us human. But wanting it does not make it so.
The fact of the matter is, bad stuff happens. It happens everywhere and whether you acted in a good way or bad way, it’s going to happen. People do not win the lottery because they “deserve to”, it just happens. When a natural disaster misses an area it’s not because the people who live there are good, or prayed harder, it just did.
Because if we accept that karma, God, Buddha, Allah, fate, whatever, rewarded the people who had these good things happen, then we also have to accept the opposite; when something bad happens, you deserved it. So when that hurricane moves away from Florida to the Louisiana/Mississippi Gulf Coast, boy those people on the Gulf must have been pretty awful, or at least they didn’t pray as much as the Floridians.
Again, whether you call it karma or religion or fate, the idea is the same and it’s dangerous.
- “Good things happen to good people”
- “You reap what you sow”
- “You get what you give”
- “What goes around comes around”
I’m willing to bet we’ve all said one or more of these. I’m also willing to believe that many of us live our lives daily based on some similar premise.
Everyone one of them assumes that good will come to us when we do good, and bad will come to people who don’t.
Now I want you to go explain to someone who lost their spouse, parent, or child to cancer how they reaped what they sowed, or talk to an abused child about how good things happen to good people. How about the thousands of people who die in natural disasters and wars, every single year? Want to go to their funerals and talk about karma? Of course not, you’d be unbelievably rude to do that, but we have no qualms talking about it everywhere else without any consideration for the message we are actually sending. Quit it.
Quit expecting life to be fair. It isn’t. Quit taking religious ideas about the rewards of the afterlife and trying to apply them to this life. Seriously, the Bible does not promise a life full of good things for the faithful, and anyone telling you it does is lying. Don’t believe me? Go read Job, or study the life of Paul. (As a start…)
As uncomfortable as it is, we have to come to grips with the fact that bad things happen to any one at any time, regardless of whether they deserve it, and good things happen in the same way. Yes, sometimes we can draw a straight line from an action to the consequences of that action, but there are a whole lot of things that happen in life that do not fall into that category. When we start talking of karma, or we start viewing ourselves as somehow deserving of the good luck we’ve had, we dehumanize the victims of abuse, and invite them to blame themselves for the tragedies that have occurred. Being abused as a child, or dealing with a mental illness, is not a consequence of some action we took and it is not a judgement of our character! It is a bad thing that happened to us that has no bearing on our own character.
It may feel nice and comfy to believe in karma, but for those of us who have survived child abuse, the idea is not helping. Quite the opposite, in fact.