Blessing or Curse

When we lose one blessing, another is often most
unexpectedly given in its place.
C. S. Lewis

Have you ever had something "bad" happen to you that later turned out to be a "good" thing? An executive that I worked with at the British Petroleum Company was stuck in London traffic and missed his flight home to the United States. It was December 21st, and he was eager to get back to his family for Christmas. He knew it would be very difficult to rebook and get home in time, and cursed the cars in front of him.  His flight was Pan Am 103.  Shortly after takeoff, a bomb exploded onboard, killing all the passengers and crew, as well as people living in Lockerbie, Scotland, who were hit by the wreckage. His anger from the missed flight changed to intense gratitude, and he (and I) have never been upset about being late for a flight again.  Was it a "bad" thing that he wasn't on the plane?

The Chinese parable entitled The Old Man and His Horse has valuable lessons about maintaining perspective when "bad" and "good" events happen in your life.

The Old Man and His Horse (a.k.a. Sai Weng Shi Ma)
Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

One morning he found that the horse was not in his stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. You are so poor. It would have been better to have sold him. Now the horse is gone and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”

The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”

The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”

The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”

After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again, the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”

The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? "

“Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned. With a little work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.

The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.

“You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken both his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”

The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Don’t go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”

It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. They would never see their sons again.

“You were right, old man,” They wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”

The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this. Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”

Think about situations you have faced that you initially considered a curse and later became a blessing. Many of my friends who have had serious medical issues, such as cancer, tell me that their lives are much richer and more valuable to them now. After going through infertility and not knowing if we would be able to have biological children, my wife and I have an even deeper love for our son and twin daughters.

The opposite can occur, when a supposedly "good" situation turns bad. Most lottery winners will tell you winning a huge sum can end up being a curse rather than a blessing. One of my doctors won a major lottery and had to stop practicing medicine at a young age out of fear of lawsuits seeking his winnings. Although he was financially secure, the profession that he loved and spent years learning in schools and hospitals was no longer available to him.

As different events occur in your life, be slow to judge whether they are "good" or "bad." In fact, analyze the situation to see both the good and bad aspects. This valuable review will help you maintain perspective, and face the experience with patience and resilience.
           

Action Points

  • Be slow to determine if something is "good" or "bad."
  • Maintain a positive perspective, seeing both the potential benefits and challenges for every event that happens to you.

Payoff

  • Calmness in the midst of storms, wisdom, and resilience

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