I’ve decided that 2018 will be the year that I abandon the false dichotomy of good and bad, and I want you to join me.
I decided that rating things either “good” or “bad” was illogical after listening to Heather Lanier’s TED Talk, “‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are incomplete stories we tell ourselves.”
Lanier begins her talk with a 2,000-year-old Taoist parable that I was surprised never to have heard. I’m from Oklahoma, so I thought I’d heard just about every way to say something without actually saying it. Apparently not. The parable goes something like this:
A Chinese farmer’s horse runs away. A neighbor says, “That’s bad news.” The farmer replies, “Good news… bad news… who can say?” The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who is thrown off of the horse, breaking his leg. “So sorry for your bad news,” the neighbor tells the farmer. The farmer responds, “Good news… bad news… who can say?” About a week later, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared because of his broken leg.
I want to remember the phrase “Good news… bad news… who can say?” It’s a good response to many questions and reflects a positive attitude, something that doesn’t always come naturally to me.
The parable also reminds me of a quote I frequently say to my teens: “Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.” It’s something I also have to remind myself. I have seen clearly in my own life how focusing on the positive helps me look for more of the same and helps me put negatives into context. As one of my favorite leadership authors, Michael Hyatt, says: “You get more of what you focus on.”
Consciously shifting your thoughts away from negativity to more positive, thankful and happy thoughts actually changes the way you feel, physically and emotionally. Positive thinking reduces stress, improves relationships, increases your productivity, helps you feel happier and more fulfilled, and can actually increase your lifespan.
We use the good-or-bad dichotomy to categorize nearly everything in our lives—days, events, people, food, decisions, projects, our performance… the list goes on. But the lesson of the parable is that good and bad are a false dichotomy. Life just isn’t that simple. I’m challenging you to do better in 2018. Will it be good or bad? Who can say?