I’ve learned that we often immediately label certain events in our lives, seeing the potential bad in situations. It happens to every one of us. I recall a situation when I first moved to the Gulf Islands and into an uncooperative school district. I realized my autistic son was not going to get the support he needed. In fact, his autism programming consultant labeled the school and district as saying one thing but doing the opposite. For two years, my son didn’t go to school because we did not have an administration and staff who would be willing to think outside the box, so I was forced to come up with another option, which was to put my son in an outdoor wilderness program that taught him life skills he never would’ve ever learned in school or anywhere else. These are skills that are pivotal and are never taught, and they’ve given him independence in so many areas that he never would have learned otherwise. Was this a good thing? Yes, it was, but at the time it sure didn’t seem that way.
Then there was the Christmas storm that came through the Gulf Islands. As you may know, Salt Spring was hit hardest, leaving us without power or running water for a week. Some may see this as a bad thing, but it was actually a really good thing, because it brought neighbors together, looking out for each other, helping each other out in ways that would never happen otherwise. We spent Christmas with our neighbors instead of alone. Even after power was restored, which on some parts of the island took well into the new year, we were closer with our neighbors in a way that never would’ve happened otherwise. We’re looking out for each other, something that we used to do at one time in society but that no one does anymore. This incident was a really good thing, because we all learned that when disaster strikes, it’s not governments who are going to come in and help you. It’s your neighbors.
How many times has a stressful situation seemed so horrible that you’ve automatically stuck a label on it, seeing it as the worst thing ever? Maybe you’ve told all your friends, family, and loved ones about this horrible situation and how bad it is, about how it’s creating tremendous stress and suffering and sleepless nights for you. Did you know that suffering doesn’t happen when an event occurs? Rather, suffering and stress and sleepless nights happen the minute you stick a label on something and call it a bad thing.
Here’s one that some of you might be able to relate to. Maybe your marriage has fallen apart and you’re going through a divorce, or the company you work for is downsizing and you lost that job you hated anyway. You have a family to support, and you immediately go to that place of horrible, disaster, bad. “How am I going to pay the rent/mortgage? How will I put food on the table? How will I be able to pay for my kids’ horseback riding lessons or hockey practice? My wife and family are going to think I did something to deserve this. My friends will judge and criticize me.” You get the picture. You can apply this to any situation in your life. As you’re worrying about it, you’ve already stuck a label on it, declaring that this is a disaster, and the minute you do this, your stress and suffering begin.
When something like this happens, many of us don’t realize that what has inadvertently happened is in fact two different things, two different events. Are you wondering what these are? Let me shed some light, because learning this from Srikumar Rao was pivotal for me. The first is the incident. It’s just that, just an event. The second is you making the decision that what has happened is a horrible thing, and it’s so awful that you don’t know how you’re going to get through it. If you look back on your life now, especially at something that may have happened that you believed was horrible at the time, can you see that it was a pretty good thing even though you couldn’t see it that way?
Most people can recall several events that they labelled as awful, stressful, and bad at the time, but now they can look back and say that what happened was a good thing because the direction it forced them to take was for the better. If you can do that, take a look at what’s happening around you right now in your life. If there’s a situation that you’ve automatically labeled as a bad thing, ask yourself if what’s happening to you right now could in fact be something good in the future. Just thinking this way can open you up to possibilities that you would never consider otherwise. If you’re in that situation right now, ask yourself, “What can I do to change this into something good?” If you’ve experienced something that you thought was horrible at the time but now realize was actually a good thing, share it in the comments below, because it might help someone else who’s going through the same thing see that maybe it isn’t so bad after all.
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