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Good and Bad

Good and Bad

Most people believe that there is good and bad all around us.  Our job is to determine the difference between good and bad.  By understanding when something is good or bad, we can then make decisions that reflect doing the right thing.  

The problem is that everything is good and bad.  One cannot exist without the other and they are always both there, mixed together.  Our job is not to judge whether there is “more” good or “more” bad, it is simply to understand.

An Old Story

Let me give an example.

While you’re reading try to determine if the pony is a good gift or a bad gift.

There is a story about an old wise man in a village.  One day the man hears that a young child in the village receives a pony as a gift.  Everyone in the small village gossips about the new gift and they all agree that this child is very lucky to have such a gift.

The old wise man wasn’t so certain.  He simply said “We’ll see.”

A few years go by and while the boy is out riding his pony the animal gets scared and knocks the boy to the floor.  In doing so the boy breaks both legs and has permanent damage to them.  Again everyone in the village agrees that this is a horrible accident and that the pony was a bad gift.

The old wise man wasn’t so certain.  He simply said “We’ll see.”

When the child reaches adulthood the country erupts in war.  All able men are told to protect their village by joining up with the larger army.  Because of the boy’s accident he is not able to fight.  One day the boy is sitting down with the old man and tells him how bad it is that he cannot fight and defend his village.

The old wise man wasn’t so certain.  He simply said “We’ll see.”

As the new group of soldiers convenes and heads to the battle they are suddenly ambushed.  The entire group of fighters from the village is killed.  Everyone in the village is devastated and the only reason the boy survived and can help the village rebuild after losing so many men is because he was not at that battle.  

Again I ask, was the gift of the pony good or bad?  

Even though everyone spent the whole time trying to determine if the pony was a good gift or a bad gift, the old wise man knew that it was both.  There were good things and bad things that came from the pony and it is impossible to try and separate them out.

Our Own Lives

Every day we can point to things in our lives similar to the story.  When someone gets fired from a job we assume that that is a bad thing.  Then they find a better job and the old company goes out of business.  Suddenly everyone claims that getting fired was a good thing for him.  We spend all of our time and energy trying to judge everything.  The reality is that there is a seed of good in everything bad and a seed of bad in everything good.

Look to broke lottery winners, drug-addicted celebrities or star athletes that suffer long term brain damage from their sport to see that even when good things happen, there are negative aspects of those same things.  

Even devastating tragedies usually unveil heroes, people coming together for a good cause and people appreciating things that they previously took for granted.  There may be an overwhelming amount of bad, but in it is the seed of opportunity that something good can come out of it. 

The Tao Te Ching

I never realized this point until I read the Tao Te Ching.  It uses paradoxical concepts to explain that there is good and bad mixed together.  My favorite chapter in the Tao Te Ching is chapter 29, which roughly translates to:

“Do you think you can change the world and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.

Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.”

Instead of focusing on judging everything and trying to do the right thing among very complicated circumstances, look to this verse to understand that sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind.  

Instead of fighting with yourself over what needs to change in the world, understand that the world is actually perfect.  If it never rained and was sunny all the time, plants would die and we would have no food.  If people didn’t lose then nobody could ever win.  Without ugliness there is no such thing as beauty.  

Instead of stressing over things in live, learn to avoid extremes, excesses, and complacency.  The Tao goes into detail about the harm of these throughout the 81 short chapters and I encourage you to read Dr. Wayne Dyers interpretation of the Tao in “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.”

Counterpoint

It is one thing to understand the principles in the Tao but it is another thing to be able to incorporate them in our lives to become more content and happy.  To truly implement this new way of thinking, we have to get into the systems and habits that control our lives.  

Everything is controlled by underlying systems and we can tap into that to make positive and long-lasting changes in our lives.  Here is one system that can be used to change the way we think.

Every time someone says something negative, or complains, silently think to yourself what a positive counterpoint is to their argument.  If they say that it is too cold outside to go for a walk, think to yourself that a positive thing about it being too cold outside is that we get to spend more quality time with our family indoors.  Or think about something that we have to be grateful for related to their complaint.  In this situation we should be thankful that our cars have heat and that we live in a warm home instead of on the street.  

If someone says that they have a lot of work to do by the weekend, think to yourself that that means they can feel that they accomplished a lot at the end of the week and can relax knowing they worked hard.  

Whatever negative comes out, start to think of a positive counterpoint.  If you do this continuously you will start to see that there really is nothing that is only good or only bad.  Everything is mixed together and it is simply how we interpret it that matters.  It will allow you to see opportunities that others miss.  It will help you do the things that might be unpleasant, such as working out or eating right, because you will understand that even though it might “suck” to be disciplined the positives are abundant.  It will create a positive habit that you can use for the rest of your life.  

In order to make this into a firm habit, choose certain times of the day or certain people that you speak to regularly to do this.  At 3 pm every day walk around to other offices to say hello or check on a project.  Or every time you speak with Joe, try to think of a positive that he is missing when he complains about things in his life.  Whatever they say, try to think of a positive counterpoint as you walk back to your desk.  

What this is actually doing is helping us to be less entitled and more appreciative of things in our lives.  Entitlement is often the number one characteristic of an employee that is not performing well or a spoiled teenager that rebels against their parent.  They seem to focus on what they deserve rather the positives that are already in their lives.  

Contentment

Becoming content with the things in your life is the only way to truly be happy.  People often confuse this and say that if you are content you are not willing to work to improve yourself.  I completely disagree.  You can be content without becoming complacent.  You can be happy and continue to work hard and move towards your goals.  All that changes is that you realize that no matter what happens you will be happy.  Everything else can change and be at risk but your happiness is not negotiable.  

Implement positive change in your life to become more content.  Find the positive counterpoint and build that into your way of thinking.  Once this becomes a habit you will start to understand just how much others miss by focusing on the negative or spending all of their time judging.

Remember that there is no good or bad but that everything is both good and bad.  The best way to be happy then is to simply avoid “extremes, excesses, and complacency.”