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Haddad: Labels of good and bad can fog our window of perspective

(Illustration created from early Yuan period Chinese art dated 1296)

(Illustration created from early Yuan period Chinese art dated 1296)

In my May 4 column I shared some background and thoughts on the adage, “This too shall pass.” I explained that the proverb wields a double-edged sword because it can help us endure the passage of difficult times, or help us maintain our perspective and humility during good times.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca put it this way, “It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.”

During this pandemic the adage is meant to calm our minds, help us gather our courage. But how does this sentiment help us when we feel helpless? How are we to balance the good with the bad of such a proverb?

At a 2007 speaking engagement at Brigham Young University–Idaho, faculty member Brad Foster shared some insights that help me keep all of life’s tragedies and successes in perspective.

Foster told a story designed to be “a lens that will provide eternal clarity for the rest of your life’s journey.”

Below is the story I call, “Is it Good or Bad?”

There was once a wise Chinese man who had one son, one horse, and one acre of ground on which he made his living. One day his son went out to feed the horse and left the gate open and the horse ran away. All of the man’s friends and neighbors came to him and said, “Oh that’s too bad. You’ve lost your only horse. How will you make your living?” The wise Chinese man just said, “I don’t know if that’s bad or that’s good.” But they insisted it was bad.

A few days later, the horse got thirsty and came back to the corral bringing nine other wild horses with him. Now all his friends came over and said, “Oh, isn’t that good. You’ve got 10 horses.” The wise Chinese man said, “I don’t know if that’s bad or good.” And they insisted it was good.

A few days later, the wise Chinese man’s son went out to break one of the wild horses. In the process, the horse reared up and came down, severely breaking the son’s leg. This time all the neighbors came over and said, “Oh, that’s too bad. That’s your only son. What will you do?” And again the wise Chinese man said, “I don’t know if that’s bad or good.” And they insisted it was bad.

A short time later, war broke out in the country. The government came through and gathered up all the able-bodied young men and marched them off to war where they were all killed. His only son was saved.

Foster said this story belongs to all of us and can go on and on. He explained that the moral is that we must be very careful about letting the voices of the world — sometimes even our best friends and neighbors — convince us that everything that happens to us must be labeled and treated as good or bad, or designated a burden or a blessing.

I believe some of life’s challenges are placed in our path to see if we will endure the storm and come out as better, more compassionate and caring individuals. The best people I have known in my life have endured trials that shaped them and gave them wisdom to see that “This too shall pass.”

As we endure our own trials we are given a glimpse into the lives and struggles of others. A single glimpse can be a powerful thing if we are looking in the right direction.

Richard Haddad is the editor of Prescott News Network.

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