There is a story of a Chinese farmer. One day, his horse runs away and the villagers come to him and say, “That’s too bad!” and he responds, “Maybe.” The next day, the horse returns with more horses, and the villagers come to the farmer and say, “That’s great.” And, he says, “Maybe.” The next day his son breaks his leg while trying to tame one of the horses, and the villagers come to him and say, “That’s too bad.” And, he says, “Maybe”. The following day, the conscription officers come by looking to draft people in the army and reject his son for service. The villagers come to him and say, “Isn’t that wonderful?” And he says, “Maybe.”
We are quick to judge our situations. When things are going well, we assign a value of “good”, let’s say. When things aren’t working out, we assign a value of “bad.” The thing is we don’t know the consequences of our misfortunes just like we don’t know the consequences of a good fortune.
What if things turning out well is not a good thing after all and what if things not turning out well happens to be a blessing in disguise? What if you’re financially successful but unhappy in your relationships? Is that “success” good or bad? Or you might have separated from your (difficult) partner for whatever reason and you’re now challenged with having to deal with the situation thinking it’s all bad, but is that really so? Or you might have lost your house due to fire (which helped you get rid of excess stuff, which was limiting you) — is that good or bad?
Shakespeare reminds us in Hamlet:
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
Let’s take the case of the late actor, Irrfan. He struggled to find work throughout the 90s. All he wanted at the time was to get a small part in a Hindi movie, if only for 10 minutes. Now, one might be quick to judge from his circumstance during that time feeling sorry for his struggle, but what if he struggled because his time hadn’t come yet? What if his struggle had nothing to do with him? What if his struggle was an indication of something good (because the industry wasn’t ready for his kind of work, not the least of which was because most movies made during the time were subpar (IMO) and didn’t deserve him)?
While one might think at the time, his struggle was unfortunate, but the kind of movies he did later on (that came to him) in the early 2000s brought him critical acclaim and shot him to instant stardom. Then, one might think of his success as “good”, but then he met with an untimely death and we lost one of the greatest actors (and human beings) of our time.
Peter Bradshaw, film critic of The Guardian once described him as:
a distinguished and charismatic star in Hindi and English-language movies whose hardworking career was an enormously valuable bridge between South Asian and Hollywood cinema.
We are quick to make our circumstances about ourselves when most of the time that may not be the case. We are quick to make assertions about ourselves from our failures and successes. We think of success as good and failure as bad. But, is that really so? What if nothing is the way it seems?
Maybe the reason we are failing at something is because we might be playing small (and ergo, not living to our potential)? Or we might simply be knocking at the wrong door? Things may happen when the time is right (or they may not). Either way, you just don’t know. As the Arab proverb goes, “Inside every delay is a blessing.”
If nature has taught us anything, we know everything is cyclical. In other words, nothing lasts forever. Even that fact is neither good nor bad. It just is. For instance, this planet is not going to be around forever and the Sun will absorb it at some point. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. Perhaps the end of something (like death) could be the beginning of something else (birth)?
I’ll leave you with this quote by Pema Chödrön:
Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.