Why You Need to Keep an Eye on the Bigger Picture

Most of the time, we only see part of any picture.

I remember thinking (fairly selfishly) when the news about coronavirus started coming out of China, thank goodness it was all happening far away...

But by the time we'd heard about it, it was probably already circulating in the rest of the world.

And, in amongst the tragedy of the obvious human and economic cost, we just don't know what the long-term impacts will be.

There might even be some positives in there, such as a wider uptake in flexible working; or a reduction in annual colds and flu thanks to our new hand-washing habits.

It is very hard for us to see the wider, long-term impacts in the moment.

Which, for me, is a good reason to stay optimistic! 😁

But at the very least, we can try to stay detached, and not get too caught up in the short-term implication of any situation.

We never really know what might happen next...

A wonderful example of this is in the Chinese story of the Old Man and his Horse.

An old man lived in a rural village, poor, but happy - because he owned the most beautiful white horse that anyone had ever seen.

He loved this horse very much.

The horse was so beautiful that it was coveted by Kings.

They offered huge sums of money for the horse - but the old man always refused to sell.

His neighbours couldn’t believe it - if he had sold the horse, he would never be poor again.

But he said to them,

“how can I sell this horse? This horse is not a possession, but a friend. How could I sell a friend?”

One day, the old man went as usual to his horse’s stable with its morning feed - but the stable was empty!

The horse was gone!

The old man’s neighbours scoffed at him, saying,

“of course it’s been stolen! It was always going to happen, with a valuable horse like that! This is a disaster! You should have sold it while you had the chance!”

But the old man replied,

“you don’t know that. All we know is that the horse is not in the stable - that is the only fact. Everything else you say is conjecture. I don’t know whether this is a misfortune or a blessing, because all I know is this fragment: the horse is not here now.”

The villagers laughed in scorn, and wandered off.

They thought the old man was crazy - it served him right to lose the horse, as he wouldn’t sell it.

The days passed, and life in the village continued.

But one day, there was a commotion: suddenly, the white horse re-appeared, heading a group of wild horses!

He hadn’t been stolen, he had escaped, and was now returning!

The villagers couldn’t believe their eyes.

Not only did the old man have his precious white horse back, but he also now had a dozen new horses! What luck did he have.

But the old man reserved judgment.

He said,

“just as we didn’t know that the fact the horse was lost was misfortune, we also now do not know whether this is a blessing. We can only see this fragment - unless we know the whole story, how can we tell? If you only read one word, how can you judge the sentence? If we only read one sentence, how can we judge the book?”

The villagers got angry - how could he remain so detached in the face of this fabulous stroke of luck!