When Things Don’t Work Out: Who Knows If It’s Good or Bad?

Posted by on September 17, 2016 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living, Thrive with 1 Comment

choose good bad


By Elloa Atkinson | Tiny Buddha

“It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” ~Tony Robbins

I recently received a rejection letter for a voluntary role befriending and supporting a child in the care system. I was excited at the prospect of supporting a child who had likely been through a lot, and had been quietly confident that I would be great in the role.

After all, I am an emotionally responsible, fun-loving, deeply caring adult who had lived through a ton of difficulty: addiction and alcoholism (my own and my mother’s); growing up in a single parent household; not meeting my biological dad properly until I was fourteen years old; self-harm, self-hatred, and overwhelming, toxic shame, which I have transformed into courage, confidence, and a powerful calling to be of service to others.

I felt my stomach knot up as I read, “Some of the information you share online could be confusing for a child and might be inappropriate for their age and understanding. We have therefore regretfully decided that we will not be able to accept your application for this role.”

First I was disappointed, and then I was angry.

I was angry with myself and my stupid, “too-much” honesty, angry with the articles I’ve written that have gone viral in the past, leaving me with a permanent digital fingerprint, angry with the system and its red tape and bureaucracy, angry that anyone can have their own baby but in order to support one that is in the care system, you need to be bland, opaque, and un-googleable.

Then, the wave of shame came—shame that I have shared so transparently over the years, shame that anyone can google me and can find so much… stuff.

Next came the fear: the letter raised doubts and questions about how transparent and vulnerable it is safe to be. I noticed my mind race with fears about whether I would ever get a voluntary position or job working with children/vulnerable adults again.

And then (finally!), some understanding and acceptance.

The recruiters are simply doing what they consider is best for the child.

I wrote my application in full integrity, so if it’s not happening, perhaps it is not meant to be.

It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m okay.

I remembered the fable of the wise farmer. Here is my own version of it:

There was once a wise farmer, who, with his wife, had a small piece of land and one horse. One day, the horse managed to jump the fence and ran away to freedom.

The farmer’s nosy neighbor sidled up to the fence, leaned on it conspiratorially, tutting and shaking his head. “You had just one horse,” said the neighbor, “and now he’s gone. Such bad luck!”

The wise farmer nodded slowly, taking in his neighbor’s words. “Well, who knows if it’s good or bad?”

The next day, the wise farmer’s horse miraculously reappeared, except that he wasn’t alone: in tow was a second, wild horse.

The neighbor hurried over excitedly, jabbering away. “You had one horse, then you lost it, and now you have two! This is such good luck!”

The farmer smiled sagely before replying, “Who knows if it’s good or bad?”

The following day, the farmer’s only son took on the job of breaking in the wild horse. The horse bucked, throwing the son to the ground. His leg was well and truly broken.

“Tut, tut, tut,” the neighbor muttered in dismay, “What a week! You lose a horse, get it back, gain an extra horse and now your only son, your only help on the farm, is injured! This is such terrible, terrible luck.”

Once again the wise farmer shrugged his shoulders, utterly non-committal. “Who knows if it’s good or bad?”

A week later, the army marched through town, conscripting all and any young men for military duty. The farmer’s son, in a cast and on crutches, was not required to go to war. The neighbor exhaled in relief upon hearing the news. “Oh, what good luck for you and your family! Your son doesn’t have to go to war! Such good luck.”

Of course, the farmer responded in only the way he could…

“Who knows if it’s good or bad?”

I’m not about to suggest that when we see injustice, abuse, or evil in the world, we pretend that it doesn’t matter, or use the “Who knows if it’s good or bad?” line as an excuse for apathy. That would be a gross misinterpretation of the message of this story, which is really, in its essence, a teaching about curiosity and remembering that in the grand scheme of things, we really don’t know what anything truly means.


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  1. Events are just what the word says: events. There are no good nor bad events. We classify them as such according to out expectations and how it affects the outcome we expected. That is the final line. No need to make it look or seem complex cuz it is not.

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