Learning to Question Your Labels

Judging an unpleasant event as bad, or a pleasant event as good, is natural. But what if it’s more complicated than that? By judging any event as only good or only bad, you prematurely close the door to a more complete view of the world. By suspending judgment you can keep the door open to greater understanding and learning. If you think about it, when do you really know with absolute certainty that an event is good or is bad? The following story illustrates.

Old Story

There is a Chinese story of an old farmer who had a horse for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills leaving the farmer and his son to plow their fields themselves. When all the neighbors sympathized with the old man and his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Later, when the farmer’s son was trying to tame one of the wild horses and tried to ride it, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this was very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some time later the army came to the village and took all the able bodied men to fight in battle. They didn’t recruit the farmer’s son because he had a broken leg. Now was that good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

Are Lemons Bad?

If you’ve ever made lemonade from lemons you didn’t want, then you could ask, were the lemons good luck or bad luck? When we label things in our life as good or bad and hold onto those judgments in an inflexible way, we limit our vision and deny the complexity of life. Events are all linked together in a complex web that is beyond comprehension. Good and bad, and everything in between, are mixed together in ways that are impossible to sort out in any final, definite way.

Try this for Yourself

Think of an unpleasant event that took place at least 5 years ago. Can you think of anything that you gained as a result of this experience? Did you learn or grow in some way? Have you experienced any expansion since then that could NOT have happened if the unpleasant event had not occurred? You don’t need to scratch too far below the surface to see that things are not always what they appear to be.

Become Wiser and a More Creative

Letting go of black/white judgments about events will help you respond to events in a smarter and more creative way. It takes less than a minute to take a deep breath and clear your head. Once you suspend the judgment reflex, you’ll be able to better assess the full range of what is going on in the present and anticipate what might happen in the future. If you also look for both the upside and the downside of any course of action, your thinking will become more resilient and balanced. Then you can take action as needed.

Questioning any superficial labeling will help you view events with an expanded perspective. This will help you avoid getting bogged down with rigid conclusions. Then the flow of events around you will open up in ways that may surprise and even delight you.

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Barbara Bouchet

Barbara Bouchet is President of Contact Point Associates and author of "The Enlightened Edge for Leaders: Ignite the Power of You." She coaches and trains leaders and teams to expand, transform and take delight in their work and life. Connect with Barbara.


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