“Magical thinking” has a lot of different specific definitions, but I use it to mean thinking–though it is often less conscious than that–that because one wants something to be so, or needs it to be so, or thinks that it must or should be so, it is so.

I think that much of “blame the victim,” or just generally of placing responsibility for misfortune of any kind on the person who experiences it, is magical thinking. It is thinking that the person must have done something to cause the misfortune, so it can’t happen to me because I don’t do that thing, can’t do that thing, would never do that thing. And the further that person’s circumstances, behavior, beliefs, are from mine, the easier it is to think “I’m so different, therefore it can’t happen to me.”

Besides the overall problems posed by people operating on false premises, I immediately see one bad consequence of this: being irrationally judgmental. People make judgments of others as being careless at best and evil at worst because something bad happened to them. It must have been their fault, because that’s the only way it can’t happen to me. And these judgments become, as I said, easier and easier to make the more different the person is from me. From there it’s a small leap to entire categories of people being careless, or evil, or something in between–a small leap to “that group is like that.”

But the fact is that, in the vernacular, shit happens. Yes, everything has a cause, but the world is complex. Things have many causal factors, or more often a synthesis of them. And all of them–every one–is beyond a person’s control except what that person directly does. That’s very hard for humans to accept, so magical thinking.

Are there careless people? Of course. Are there evil people? Yes, though people have different definitions of “evil.” Do people make poor decisions? Sure. But most of the time, most people are doing the best they can in the moment, under the circumstances. Some actions that have bad consequences are taken to avoid other bad, maybe worse, consequences. There is not always a decision, a course of action, that will make everything work out right. And sometimes the universe messes with what was from the human viewpoint absolutely the best, most informed, most responsible course of action. Again, hard for humans to accept, so magical thinking.

If I have a philosophy of life, it can be summed up as “it is what it is”–“it” being whatever the situation or circumstance is. I may be angry or sad or frustrated at what it is; I don’t deny or repress those feelings. But then I try my best to deal with the situation or circumstance as it is. Being human, I probably fail more than I succeed, but I try.

You can walk a mile in another person’s shoes, but you can never walk with another person’s feet. (OK, that’s ableist, but bear with me.) So if you engage in magical thinking, I will try not to judge you. Maybe you need it. Maybe it’s the only way you can stay sane and functional in your own situation. It has been so overwhelmingly prevalent among humans throughout history that it must serve a useful purpose.