“Why me?”, then, is a cry – almost invariably of alarm and protest – in response to a perceived on-going threat (for I certainly cannot recall having heard a Football Pools or National Lottery winner raising a like question!). Moreover, it is as though when trouble or tragedy strikes as it often does without prior warning, “Why me?” seems the only question worth asking. Its premise provides much of the basis for a belief in an innate human need to search out purpose and meaning which, given our present state of knowledge, cannot be answered in a factual way. Nor, in my opinion at least, does it in any way advance things by somewhat callously substituting that sterile and by now rather hackneyed repost, heard from time to time, why not you? (since this begs a set of equally unanswerable ancillary questions).
If, given our presently limited time-based lives, the question can never yield up any form of satisfactory answer, what drives us so inexorably on to ask it in the first place? My own view is that confronted as we are at such times with the likelihood of extinction (which, by definition is what life threatening illness means) it is a cry from the innermost self – our spirit if you like – which is not time based and limited in that sense but eternal. Consequently, we struggle to even so much as countenance the concept of discontinuity and oblivion.
It is my further opinion that for this reason alone such questions should never be denied or circumnavigated by way of avoidance: (although one suspects that any such avoidance is more likely to amount to a self-perceived inability to attempt a more helpful response). After all, a sense of anxiety-provoking meaninglessness and pointlessness is by no means abnormal (or if you prefer the ‘Sunday’ term, psychopathological·) and is surely experienced at some point in time by all of us to a greater or lesser degree. Given the historically influenced genuine threat that a diagnosis of, for example, cancer engenders, what question, I would argue – however infuriatingly unanswerable – could be more natural or indeed, more predictable?
As a young student the first time many years ago now studying philosophy, I swiftly learned that almost that entire subject matter comprises questions that simply cannot be answered in a factual way. But, may I ask, does this therefore in some way relegate the study of philosophy to the level of a pointless pursuit? Indeed it does not, any more than the question “Why me?” should be regarded as sterile or pointless and irrelevant. It only becomes so if one ignores or fails to ‘re-invest’ the essential truth that flows from it: namely that people appear to cope better as increasingly they are able to work through life-events and changes, however welcome or unwelcome they may have been and/or may continue to be. This is a process that not infrequently begins with the question, “Why me?” Indeed, it might even be re-stated as “What next?” (as, over the course of the next two postings we shall come increasingly to appreciate).