According to the Cambridge Dictionary, serendipity is defined as “the fact of finding interesting or valuable things by chance’’. Such unexpected discoveries are often the basis of incredible ingenuity and progress seen in the human race. Whether be it the discovery of the Post-It NoteTM, the antibiotic Penicillin, the polymer TeflonTM or the VelcroTM strap, serendipity is prevalent within a wide range of human endeavours and has contributed immensely to furthering human understanding. Yet, the value of serendipity on a much broader scale – as it applies to life and the ‘human experience’ – is quite often not fully understood and/or appreciated. In this piece, I hope to shed some light on the importance of this very phenomenon and how it can influence human interaction and behaviour in the modern world.
Humanity’s fascination with the concept of ‘beauty’ never fails to amaze me. From the ubiquitous image of a curvaceous and seductive figure representing feminine beauty to the alluring sight of a pretty sunflower, people gravitate towards and actively seek out all that is beautiful in life. In and of itself, I think that the human idea of beauty is a subjective one. For instance, if confronted by a little chihuahua, a dog-lover would show a completely different reaction to it compared to someone who despises dogs. The dog-lover would (ideally) comment on how adorable or cute that chihuahua looks and would then try to pet it or cuddle it in their arms. A dog-hater would simply steer clear of making any sort of physical contact with the chihuahua. Put simply, an individual who likes dogs (and perhaps chihuahuas in particular) would be inclined to view the chihuahua in a more favourable light whereas someone who hates dogs would be much less inclined to do so. You could say that a mental predisposition exists in each person’s mind with regards to either adoring dogs or downright despising them. While a chihuahua dog does not look at all horrifying unlike Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or even Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde, it nonetheless elicits a different response based on whether you are disposed towards seeing dogs as attractive or not. However, the same cannot surely be said for a foul-smelling, rotten pile of garbage. No matter how much you might enjoy rummaging through a pile of trash to recover any re-usable items, there is something universally unappealing (repelling almost) about approaching a heap of waste with an unbearable odour. Just notice the mental picture that is formed as you read the previous two sentences. Not a great one, right? This in turn, leads to an interesting thought for our musing. Is it possible to see beauty in things that are inherently unpleasant and conversely, ugliness in things that are inherently beautiful? In my opinion, I tend to agree with a quote attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, ‘’everything has its
beauty, but not everyone sees it.’’ Hence, it is possible for all of us to see and appreciate beauty in even the most horrible of things. Take for example a tragic vehicle accident that takes the life of the wife in a newly married couple. In this scenario, while her husband initially would be consumed by grief arising from the death of his partner, once he’s had the chance to move on, he is capable of appreciating the beauty of the lesson the accident taught him. Namely that ‘life always hangs by a thread’ and therefore it is important to make the most out of every second in life. Conversely, it is also possible for any of us to see and be repelled by ugliness in the most beautiful of things. It really depends upon your attitude or perspective towards life and the situations it throws your way! Now, you might be wondering at this point – hang on a minute, what does serendipity have to do with beauty at all? Well, I intuitively feel that beauty is the valuable by-product of serendipity. Whether be it the beauty of the fragility of human experience or something much simpler like the miracle of curing an unwanted bacterial infection, serendipity has its place in shaping humanity’s ideas of beauty.
The idea of allowing life to unfold naturally, known more concisely as spontaneity is something that we’ve all experienced at some point or another in our lives, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Throughout life, many of us waste our time fighting its unperturbable flow and I’m definitely guilty of doing this myself. Eastern philosophers were aware of this very fact; dating as far back as the 4th century BCE (Before the Common Era), attempts were made to provide
an antidote to this fundamental problem. Two schools of thought (or religions as they are better known by) which did this include Taoism and Buddhism. Taoist wisdom involves Lao Tzu, a famous Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, who once said the excellent phrase, ‘’be like water’’. By comparing man to water, what he was trying to point out is that the ‘best of man’ is like this precious liquid – ultimately formless. Think about it for a second. Water is formless in that it is able to change its form depending on the situation it encounters – a solid block of ice when cold, steam when hot and the shape of whatever vessel it gets poured into. Man’s mind can also be trained in the same manner – to be formless; open and non-resistant to whatever life decides to throw its way. Buddhist wisdom involves the Buddha (also known as Shakyamuni Buddha or by his lay name Siddhartha Gotama), a wandering ascetic and renunciant of
worldly pleasures whose teachings centered upon the inherent dissatisfaction experienced in life and how one can escape this. A key aspect of the Buddha’s teachings is the concept of non-attachment (or put more simply ‘letting go’). According to this, human beings suffer because of our innate nature to cling onto happiness as well as any pleasant stimuli and our desire to get rid of or resist unhappiness as well as any repulsive stimuli. The Buddha taught how to stop ourselves from clinging onto or resisting such states of existence and how to let them go instead. By letting life be, by being in the present moment and not
drifting off into either the past or the future, you can become more aware of what is happening around you and very importantly, of your reaction to such phenomena. With regards to spontaneity’s link with serendipity, I think that spontaneity is the road (or even a means to an end) which leads to serendipity
and also beauty. Acquiring a fundamental understanding of the inner workings of life itself enables you to appreciate it even more and in the event that something horrible does happen, you can always gain something positive from it (i.e. the notion of a ‘blessing in disguise’ which is, in a sense, similar to serendipity).
In this piece, I have elaborated on some of the ways that serendipity contributes to life and the human experience as we know it. Serendipity is beneficial for humanity in that it can lead to beauty whilst also providing a more complete understanding of spontaneity. In addition to these, it can also serve as a means of reinforcing both hope and resilience in our species, especially in a world full of anger, hate and pain.