6. GOOD OR BAD. WHO KNOWS? Bad things happen for a good reason.

Once upon a time, an old farmer lived in a valley with his son, a handsome and dutiful youth. They lived a peaceful life despite a lack of material possessions. They were very happy.

One day, the old man borrowed money from the neighbors to buy a young and beautiful horse. The very same day he bought it, there was a huge storm. The frightened horse jumped the fence and escaped into the hills. The neighbors came to express their concern, “Oh, that’s too bad. How are you going to work the fields now? And how are you going to repay us?” The farmer shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?”

A few days, while walking in the forest to gather new ideas, he bumped into his horse that was peacefully grazing the grass together with another eight fine horses. The farmer took them all, brought them back to the stable and built a taller fence so that the horses couldn’t escape. The neighbors again gathered around, “Oh, how lucky! We thought you were destitute, but look at you now, you can do much more work than ever before!” they said. The farmer shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?”

The next day, the farmer’s son fell off one of the new horses and broke his leg. “Such misfortune,” said the neighbors. The leg healed crookedly and left the son with a permanent limp. The neighbors were concerned again, “Now that he is incapacitated, he can’t help you around, and he’ll never find a fine wife. That’s too bad.” The farmer shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?”

Soon, the news came that war had broken out, and all the young men were required to join the army. The villagers were sad because they knew that many of the young men would not come back. The farmer’s son could not be drafted because of his broken leg. So the neighbors gathered around again: “How lucky! You get to keep your only son!” The farmer shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?”

And the story goes on forever. This is an old and famous Sufi Tale that I’ve heard the first time from Srikumar Rao.

Have you ever noticed that when something undesirable happens to us, we start suffering from it not when it happens but when we label it bad? The way we tackle a situation doesn’t depend on the situation itself, but on how we look at it. Labeling the outcomes as good or bad, right or wrong can ultimately limit our learning and perception of life possibilities. 

Depending on mood, energy level or external situations, our attitude towards a problem can easily swing from positive to negative. I’m sure many of you have experienced that. If we foster too much negative attention to what happens in our lives, internally or externally, we might believe that only bad things happen to us. Just like the bread always fall buttered side down belief in action.

The events have no meaning at all. Events are just things that happen, often times outside of our control. The goodness or the badness is the label coming from our heads. We are the ones who decide to stick that label on to it.

I was in the United States of America when the attack to the twin towers on September 11th happened. One of my friends, was terribly concerned about her sister, that was suppose to have a working meeting that day in one of the towers. I was in Pennsylvania and my friend was in West Virginia. It was only latter that day when communications reestablished that we knew her sister was alive. Because she was pregnant, she did not feel well that morning when driving to Manhattan and had to drive back home and cancel the meeting at the very last minute. I guess this was when I’ve started believing that bad things happen for a good reason. In this case, my sisters friend not feeling well and driving back home was actually a good thing.

Only when we look at things in perspective, often after some time, we understand the power of “who knows”, instead of good or bad. My recommendation is to practice this idea by looking back at your life and identify all the good things that came from an event that initially you have labeled as negative. Based on this learning, what kind of reframing can you generate for future events? Specially the ones that are not in your control.

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