Serendipitous synchronicity

March 3, 2010

In our work at the Foundation, we have experienced one example after the other of happy coincidence. We would go to an official meeting, only to find that the chairman of the meeting is a childhood friend, or university roommate, or close colleague from a first job, or … I would identify a suitable partner for a project, only to learn that the Foundation’s director, Mpho, helped him to set up his business. We would decide to tackle a certain issue in a particular way, and then discover that the ideal opportunity to present the case is coming up in two weeks and we can still get on the agenda …

Now I’ve long ago discarded the “assumption of intentional capability”, especially the version that implies that when something unpleasant happens, someone intended harm. Such a position is simply not tenable if you view the world as a collection of systems at different levels, going about their business and interacting with each other when the circumstances require. That some of these events will have effects that I experience as negative, is just a simple inevitable fact of life – no malicious intent is required to explain it (I’m also not a fatalist – some of the agents in the systems I’m part of may indeed intend harm, but that’s quite rare in my experience).

Strangely though, I find it harder to interpret such synchronicity as impersonal when the outcomes are favourable, as in the examples I started with. There is a real temptation to interpret such happy coincidences as good omens, signals that we’re on the right track, or that someone or something is helping us.

I suspect the facility for happy coincidences we have experienced has more to do with having a receptive eye for opportunity than with extra-ordinary fortune. I’ve often used the teaching example of exploring possible choices for a new car – once a particular model of car has become “top-of-mind”, suddenly you notice hundreds of them on the roads where you never had before. The “gift” of serendipity may require nothing more than being open to the possibilities of events as they unfold – of course, being connected to many different networks also helps!

Then again, a famous South African gholfer, Gary Player, is reputed to have said: “The more I practice, the luckier I get” …

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