Good Luck? Bad Luck? Who knows?

Once there was a farmer whose frail old horse ran away. The farmer was unable to plow his fields without that old horse. All the people in town were concerned for the old man and his family, asking how he’d be able to handle his bad luck.

The farmer responded, “Bad Luck? Good Luck? Who knows?”

Later in the week, that horse returned with a pack of wild horses. The townspeople were excited for the old man’s fortune.

The farmer responded, “Good Luck? Bad Luck? Who knows?”

The following month was spent breaking the wild horses to work the farm and to sell. During this time, the farmer’s son fell off a horse and broke his leg.

By then everyone knew the farmer’s answer. “Bad Luck? Good Luck? Who knows?”

While the son was healing, the nation went to war. Every able-bodied male was conscripted to fight. The son with the broken leg was allowed to stay home while the neighbors’ sons went off to war.

Good Luck? Bad Luck? Who knows?

Is a flat tire Good luck or Bad luck? Photo "Changing a Tire" by Don O'Brien, Flick, CC-By-2.0
Is a flat tire Good luck or Bad luck?
Photo “Changing a Tire” by Don O’Brien, Flick, CC-By-2.0

We often see life’s events in terms of Good or Bad (or maybe even Good vs. Evil).

Things happen in life, random events that drive other events. We think things happen to us, and then we emotionally respond to them.

We don’t see the full picture of what’s transpired. We can’t. It would be impossible.

Kurt Vonnegut put it well when he said, “The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.

The Tao Te Ching teaches us, “If Good happens, good! If Bad happens, good.” This is a point I try to remind myself of daily.

The way we frame a situation completely changes our emotional response to the facts.

Expanding that frame isn’t easy, because we don’t know what we don’t know.

Daniel Kahneman wrote in his excellent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, that What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI). We know what we know, and it’s all we can see. This is true in the literal sense, because our visual input is so salient to our understanding of the world, but also in the metaphorical sense.

This isn’t to say that all events are beneficial or lead to beneficial outcomes. Terror attacks are not good. Natural disasters are not good.

Christians might say that “God has a Plan” (kinda from Jeremiah 29:11). Or you may hear someone say that “Everything Happens for a Reason” (or argue that everything does not happen for a reason).

These two ideas tend to ascribe the human concepts of Good and Bad onto events. They attempt to attach Reason to Randomness.

Instead, we have to understand that we’ll never know the full chain reaction to which we belong. We can never expand the frame enough to understand everything.

So long as that’s the case, we’ll do ourselves a favor by remembering that life is short and life is sweet and life is suffering, and we’re here to enjoy it all.

The Vinegar Tasters is a story about Chinese religious leaders, either finding the Vinegar of Life to be Sour, Bitter, or Sweet. You decide.
The Vinegar Tasters is a story about Chinese religious leaders, either finding the Vinegar of Life to be Sour, Bitter, or Sweet. You decide.

 

 


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