Think about situations you've been in and the reactions you’ve had to them. When your supervisor criticized you, did you bad mouth her? When you heard that someone was gossiping about you, did you get angry at him? Do situations stress you out easily?
Frequently, this happens because we ourselves decide the meaning of these situations and then choose to respond in the way we do. For example, what if your supervisor criticized you for good reason and what if you addressed her criticism and made the necessary changes? That's one choice and one type of outcome.
What if you were too vulnerable or too embarrassed to hear her criticism and your first reaction was to protect your ego by bad mouthing her? That's a different choice leading to a different outcome.
It's critical to understand that events are just events. We choose to label them; they're "good," "bad," "wonderful," "terrible," and so on. The label we choose will dictate our subsequent behavior or mindset.
We can easily create stress in ourselves because of the way in which we choose to label a situation. We convince ourselves that something is "good" or "bad" and then act accordingly.
Instead of deciding that things are "great" or "terrible," I have reached the point of adopting the perspective: "It is what it is." When we decide that "it is what it is," we create appropriate responses.
If it was a "bad" situation, our response is, "What can I do to fix it?" If it was a "good" situation, our response is, "How can I build upon this?" To me, these responses are far better than throwing a temper tantrum and blaming others for "bad" events or thinking I'm a genius or I've got it made in the wake of "good" events. It just is what it is.
Over the years, I have found the following story very useful in helping me to shift my interpretations of events.
One day, the only horse of a Chinese farmer runs away. The farmer's neighbor runs over and exclaims, "How terrible! Your horse ran away." The farmer responds, "Who knows what's good or bad?"
The next day, the horse returns with 50 other horses trailing. The neighbor runs over and exclaims, "How wonderful! You have 50 new horses." The farmer responds, "Who knows what’s good or bad?"
While breaking in one of the new horses, the farmer's son is thrown and breaks his leg. The neighbor runs over and exclaims, “How terrible! Your son broke his leg.” The farmer responds, “Who knows what’s good or bad?”
The next day the Chinese military comes through the town conscripting all the young males but not the farmer's son because of his broken leg. The neighbor runs over and exclaims, "How wonderful! They didn't take your son." The farmer responds, "Who knows what's good or bad?"
Where does this story end? If we're the neighbor, it never does. If we're the farmer, it just is what it is.
If we're like the neighbor, we will be shifting with the wind every time it changes direction. We will find ourselves on an emotional rollercoaster, responding to the superficial nature of events.
The farmer understands the nature of the universe and the nature of the human condition. Most of us create our own stress, our own insecurity, our own fear, through our interpretation of what happens around us.
Events are just events. Our judgment of them is what creates the "good" and "bad" aspects.
About the author
Dr. Joe Serio is a popular and sought-after criminal justice speaker and trainer. He is currently delivering a series of classes on time management, emotional intelligence, leadership, customer service, and other topics at the Harris County (Houston) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. Dr. Serio is a featured speaker at SHIELD, Sheriff Institute for Ethical Leadership Development, at the Travis County (Austin) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. He also speaks at adult and juvenile probation departments as well as police departments.