We so freely judge events and circumstances, and it tends to skew toward the negative. However, there has been a skepticism about that tendency dating as far back as history stretches.
There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you.” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran off. “Oh no! This is terrible news!” his neighbours cried. “Such terrible misfortune!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbours told him. “Now you are rich!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbours cried, “such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind, because of his broken leg. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.
Whenever we interpret a situation as being a ‘disaster’ or an ‘opportunity’ it shapes the way we feel, and that shapes the way that we respond.
The story of the Taoist Farmer shows we can never truly know how a situation is going to turn out.
The rules that dictate what is bad and what is good are all made up. What if a setback was an opportunity to learn instead of a failure? What if a lack of resources was an opportunity to show our greatest creativity?
Is divorce bad? Undoutably, and the children the marriage produced are loved, the love from the early relationship was wonderful and both sides learned more about their future ideal mate maybe.
Is a cancer diagnosis bad? Of course, and some survivors dedicate their lives to more adventure and richer relationships.
Is being fired bad? True, and the victim goes on to a far better career that fits them much better in the long run or makes the jump to start their own business maybe.
And these are among the biggest, most dramatic events that we suffer as humans. Most of life is not nearly so dramatic.
“For nothing is either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”- Shakespeare
I invite you to lean into a perspective that believes that every problem is an opportunity. Take some time and list at least three positives that come out of your next setback.
Just my opinion. What do you think?
4 thoughts on “Confident That You Can Tell Good from Bad Circumstances? Don’t Be”
Supplement to this post… watch this:
I love this short essay. I recently published an entire book exploring its main idea, whose title is based on the old saying “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Everyone says it, nobody says how. But the great philosophers offered amazing recipes for doing exactly that and overcoming first appearances that bode ill. The book is called Plato’s Lemonade Stand: Stirring Change into Something Great.
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Thank you Tom! I will give it a read.