Life certainly has its ups and downs. As I shared last month in “Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again,” we can breathe in all our amazing moments, hold on during the awful ones, and relax and exhale during the ordinary times.
Another view is that instead of seeing our situations as “good” or “bad”, we could also avoid labeling our life experiences altogether.
One reason it is so difficult to accept some things in our lives is because we label them as “bad.” For example, when we think we made a “mistake” or we “failed” at something. But the truth is that the event is just that – something that happened, and it’s how we think about it and label it that makes it “bad.” Society further exacerbates this by immediately putting labels on things and judging whatever is going on at the moment.
There are many events from my life that I can think of that I would previously have labeled as “bad.” Things like not getting into Stanford, getting into a car accident, running into problems with a tenant… But were these really “bad” things? Sure, they weren’t pleasant, but if I had gone to Stanford, I would never have had the wonderful experience I had at UC Berkeley. If I hadn’t gotten rear-ended, I might not have paid as much attention to some other health issues that cropped up. If I hadn’t run into the problems with the tenant, I might not have gotten help which saved me from more problems and stress.
The most powerful story I know that illustrates this point is the traditional Taoist story of the farmer and the horse. I came across this story when I took my Relationship Coaching training. Just like life itself, relationships have “ups” and “downs” as well.
The story goes that an old farmer’s stallion wins a prize at a country show. His neighbor comes by to congratulate him, but the old farmer just says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”
The next day, the farmer’s horse runs away. His neighbor hears of this and comes over to commiserate. “I hear that you lost your horse. That is bad news!”
“Well, who knows what is good and what is bad?” said the farmer,
The next day the farmer’s horse returns to his stable, but it has brought along a drove of wild horses it has befriended and who make themselves at home.
The neighbor can’t believe what he hears about his friend. He decides to come over and congratulate him.
“This is such great news,” he says. ” But the farmer says: ” Who knows what is good and what is bad?”
The next day the farmer’s son decides to ride one of the new wild horses, to break it in and is thrown from the horse and breaks his leg.
Upon hearing this news, their neighbor comes over to offer condolences. “This is such sad thing,” he says. “Your son has broken his leg. This is bad news.” “Well, who knows what is good and what is bad,” says the farmer.”
The following day, soldiers come by commandeering an army. They forcibly take sons from most of the surrounding farms, but because the farmer’s son had a broken leg, he could not go and was spared. The neighbor hurried over again and exclaimed: “You are so lucky! That’s wonderful news!” And the farmer replied: “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”
Nothing is purely ‘good’ or ‘bad’, even if someone (like the neighbor) might jump to that conclusion. We never truly know the full implications of anything that happens in our lives.
What events or situations from your life have you previously labeled as “bad?” Start with events that weren’t traumatic or gut wrenching. What happens if you try to see them as neutral events?