Marketing guru Seth Godin poses this idea in one of his blogs:
“Have you noticed that in most cities, every time there are lots of umbrellas, it’s raining?
From this analysis, the obvious way to make it rain is to be sure that everyone has an umbrella, preferably a black one, since that seems to be the kind that’s most visible during big storms.”
When we read about umbrellas causing rain, most of us shrug and know it’s not even a thing. That’s correlation: There is a relationship between rain and umbrellas, but carrying an umbrella does not cause rain.
But oh! When our lives take a turn we don’t like, it’s easy to believe we are somehow the cause.
And in almost every case the truth is that a challenge in your life doesn’t mean you did something to cause it. It may be that the challenge came in spite of all the great things you did, not because of the poor ones.
Recently one of our support group members — I’ll call him John — made the comment that he felt he was failing his wife as she dealt with end-stage renal failure. He also felt he was to blame for her not receiving a kidney transplant since he’s not in peak health himself. He’s also not a transplant match.
Which is a lot of blame to carry while you’re actively acting as a caregiver and father and still working a full-time job.
If we’re caregivers, we wish we could fix the thing that is broken. Whether it is the mind or the body or both of the person for whom we are caring. It would give both of us — caregiver and receiver — our freedom back, and wouldn’t that be grand?
And if we are the sick person, we blame every instance of not taking immaculate care of ourselves for what has happened. Perhaps there was a poor decision in there. For example, in the year leading up to my kidney removal I was drinking vodka and champagne daily. While drinking is correlated with kidney issues, in this case, the relationship is scant. My kidney died due to infection and surgical error years prior. Still, I blamed myself for years.
When we looked more deeply into John’s situation, we did find a cause and effect he’d overlooked.
His entire life revolves around caring for his wife and family. He rises every day before dawn. Wakes, feeds, and nurtures her. Takes care of their kids. Goes to work. Coordinates care. Checks in repeatedly. Comes home. Cooks. Cleans. Takes care of her. Ensures that she gets the all night dialysis that she needs. And more.
In fact, the cause/effect is clear: his effort is how she stays alive. He’s extending her life with every moment that he feeds, cleans, cares, and loves her.
Carrying the weight and responsibility of another person in crisis — or just yourself — can also mean conflating cause and correlation in the overwhelming confusion of it all. Sometimes life just hands out shit sandwiches, and you can only do what you can do.
After all, just because you carry an umbrella doesn’t mean that you caused the rain.