(And why we shouldn’t)
We all know a super-optimist, of the type “this works out and everything has a solution”. Which can be really annoying. It is not always that everything resolves and sometimes life is an ongoing struggle. But we also know the other type who thinks that life is an endless battle and that everything tends to end in shit.
Of course, they are also wrong.
And then we have those in the middle who are a bit like this Taoist peasant.
The Zen farmer
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer. And so on.
People who understand that things are rarely as bad as they seem, but do not understand that things are rarely as good as they seem. The inability to be realistic about the positive experiences interferes with their decision-making and sets them up for failure. These people often become “addicted” to their delusions of grandeur and are always in need of some great vision to attach themselves to.
People who understand that things are rarely as good as they seem, but do not understand that things are rarely as bad as they seem. These people are bad at parties. They are unbearably sad people to be around and their skewed attitude is both a cause and an effect of depression. These people suffer because they are incapable of fully appreciating what’s in front of them and / or they are constantly paranoid about how the latest threat is going to cause an end to life as we know it.
What you can learn from this
What the Taoist is trying to teach us is that good nor bad things that happen to us is not a sign of a continuous bad or good path ahead. It is merely a sign of what is happening now.
Applies to people you admire/hate as well
What you did not think of (nor did I) is that this applies to how you look at people as well.
We have all met accomplished assholes in our lives and also idealized people. If we have come close enough to these people, we would quickly see that there are characteristics of them for better or worse that nuance our perception of them. In short: Completed assholes always have good qualities that are good. Do you look closely enough. And the opposite. Your idols will not even tickle without blemish, if you spend enough time with them. Remember that the next time you allow yourself to be judged by a fellow human being. (This is probably where the Zen comes into play.)
Things are rarely as bad — or as good — as you think they are. The goal is not get too attached to lopsided thinking in one direction or the other.
(Or who do you want to be at the age of 96?) Restarting your life (or reinventing it), sounds like an American “pull yourself together”
Everything written in these pages is based on personal experience. Overall, this is the way I remember what happened. And everything, of course, is based on