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.
“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!
They stomped off, resenting the old man’s good fortune. Once those wild horses were broken in, they would fetch a fortune.
The days passed, and the old man’s son started trying to break in the horses.
He was the old man’s only child, and was very precious to him.
He was excited at the responsibility he’d been given - and as excited young people can sometimes do, he pushed himself and the horses too far.
He fell off, and broke both his legs.
The villagers were aghast.
What bad luck! If the horses hadn’t returned, the old man’s son wouldn’t have broken his legs!
The old man was right - those horses appearing, what had looked like great fortune, was actually bad luck.
But once again the old man remained detached.
Once again he said,
“the only fact is that my son has broken his legs. I do not know any more than this - therefore I will refrain judging this situation.”
The weeks passed, and the old man’s son was stuck in bed, in a lot of pain, as his legs started slowly to heal.
But it so happened that world events were happening outside their tiny rural village: their country had declared war on its neighbour.
And as is the way of things, when this happens, all young men were conscripted into the army, to fight and die for their country.
All the young men of the village were sent off to war.
All except the old man’s son, who, because of his broken legs, was exempt from conscription.
And once again the villagers went rushing to the old man, weeping with distress at losing their sons:
“it looked like a misfortune, but it was not! Your son breaking his legs was actually a blessing in disguise!”.
And the old man said, one last time,
“we do not know this - all we know is this fragment. As ever, I will remain detached.”
And that is how he continues to this day...
It may be difficult to remain as detached as the old man.
But we can certainly follow the old man’s example and recognise you can never really tell the implications of any given situation.
Avoiding making judgements about whether something is good or bad can be very freeing.
(Especially if we can avoid that common pitfall: catastrophic thinking, where we project forward, assuming the worst...)
And perhaps we can take comfort that actually, for the old man, his horse and his son, every tragedy was actually a blessing in disguise.
If you'd like some help putting things into perspective, and taking a more wider, more strategic view of your career...
...I am taking on new 1:1 clients for my powerful Transformational Coaching Programme from September.
Wishing you a positive and productive week! 😊💪💖
p.s. to read more of this season's #SummerStories, click on the links below!