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Think Twice Before You Label Events as Good or Bad

There is a Taoist parable about an old farmer who owned one beautiful horse. One day, this beloved horse ran away. His neighbors, upon hearing the news, came over to give their condolences. “We are so sorry,” they said. “How terrible this must be for you.”

He replied with a simple “Maybe.”

A few days later, the lost horse came back with three wild horses. His neighbors rushed to his home. “How wonderful! You are so very fortunate!”

The old farmer just said “Maybe.”

The next day, his son was attempting to tame one of the horses when he fell and broke his leg. The neighbors came around and said “We are so sorry. How very awful.”

He replied with “Maybe.”

That evening an Army recruiter came to enlist every eligible young man to join the war. The old farmer’s son was passed over because of his broken leg. The neighbors, once again, told him how very lucky he was. The old farmer just said “Maybe.”

This ancient parable emphasizes the wisdom of remaining nonjudgmental throughout the events in our lives, whether they appear positive or negative. We are so quick to judge things as “good” or “bad,” but in reality, we don’t have any idea how things are going to play out. Losing a job, for example, may seem like a terrible misfortune, and yet it may simply be a painful ending giving way to a new beginning — a much more satisfying job, perhaps.

Most of us put out a constant (subconscious) effort to ensure that only “good” things happen to us. We live in a state of low-grade fear, always trying to control situations and people so that things go our way. Then when our real lives don’t match up with the ideal picture we hold in mind, we become depressed, angry or anxious.

This controlling behavior takes hold of every aspect of life: The coffee at the donut shop isn’t hot enough, so we become angry. Traffic is slow for no reason, so we become agitated. Our love interest doesn’t reply back and we become anxious and depressed.

But what if we simply let go of our judgments and expectations, our control and manipulations? What if we simply accept things as they are for now while we consciously work on making things better? This is not condoning a life of passivity or giving up. It is simply having the wisdom to change what we can change, and emotionally letting go of the things we have no control over.

It would be impossible, and even detrimental, if everything ran smoothly in our lives 100 percent of the time. We would be very boring, one-dimensional people, lacking in depth. After all, if every day were sunny, with no rainy days, the earth would dry up. If we didn’t know darkness, we wouldn’t know light. If we didn’t know sorrow, we wouldn’t know happiness.

When something goes wrong — and it will — wait it out. It is a part of the ebb and flow of life. Change what you can change, but try not to stress over things for which you have no control. After all, who knows what turn of events will come about tomorrow? Be like the farmer, and simply say “maybe.”

Good and bad photo available from Shutterstock

Think Twice Before You Label Events as Good or Bad

Traci Pedersen

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APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Think Twice Before You Label Events as Good or Bad. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Nov 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.