Years ago I read a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer that analyzed and explained the Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching is an ancient text, 2,500 years old. Many throughout the ages have called it the wisest book ever written.
Dr. Dyer’s book was titled Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life. When I first started to read it I hated the title and felt it was too attention-grabbing and wouldn’t hold up to that incredible claim.
Sitting here now, over 10 years since I read that book I feel that the title is completely accurate. My life trajectory took a noticeable curve after reading that book. Most noticeable, my attitude and general happiness in life improved significantly.
One of the main concepts that I learned from reading Dyer’s words was the idea that good and bad never exist by themselves. They are ALWAYS together. Everything good has bad in it and everything bad has good in it.
When I read Dyer’s explanation I first disagreed. I could come up with all sorts of evil acts of man such as Hitler’s concentration camps, serial killers’ actions, and suicide bombers.
But as I read more I started to see things differently. Being an avid reader of systems thinking I started to see a connection between the two.
I started to realize that the bad elements that we focus on are not the full system. They are only part of the full system.
Can something good come from those horrible examples of human evil? Was there anything positive that came out of these acts?
Sometimes it seems like the good comes from the response of good people. They step forward to sacrifice and give us an example of selflessness. They fight evil so the rest of us can live in peace.
Sometimes it is from people coming together in the aftermath of these atrocities to create better social systems that help heal and grow to an improved state, one where we know the capability of evil and have structures in place to protect innocent people from falling victim to these individuals willing to do unthinkable acts.
For me (and I assume most people) it is difficult to see the good in bad. But we can certainly find the bad in good much easier.
We see it when someone wins the lottery and then start to make poor decisions because financial limitations are gone. They start to explore drugs and the material things in life, losing the underlying meaning in life and the personal pride that comes with working to earn a living to support one’s family.
We can spot bad in good all the time. We can experience jealousy in our coworker when they get a promotion we feel they didn’t earn. We can see the headache of taking our children to the park, only to see temper tantrums when its time to go home.
Throughout the years by combining Dyer’s concepts (really they came from the author of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu) around good and bad existing together, and then using systems thinking to provide a greater picture of life, I have never found an instance of good being separate from bad.
The reason that this brought so much happiness to my life is because what remains after we strip judgment from our repertoire is calmness and bliss.
Carl Jung says it well when he says, “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
This allowed me to stop looking for perfection all the time. Instead of wanting perfect health without doing anything uncomfortable, I am willing to have discomfort today while exercising so the future me can have better health. In other words, I don’t expect things to be only good, I know that some elements I will like and others I won’t.
I can sacrifice for my family. I can take on a difficult project at work and be willing to tackle the most difficult tasks. I can monitor progress and improvement instead of perfection and errors. Those become part of the process that allows me to get better, not examples of missed goals. Failures become one element on the road to success, not an example of being devoid of success. I don’t expect everything to be handed over to me. Instead I have to do the difficult work (the bad) to see things through (the good).
This shift in mindset has been instrumental in my ability to use systems and habits to improve. It has allowed me to stop trying to use perfection as the measuring stick and instead use progress and improvement as the measuring stick, which is much more attainable and less discouraging while on the journey. And it allows me to do the difficult work (the bad) that is required in order to reach new levels of success and happiness (the good).