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Category Archives: Wisdom

Best Commencement Speeches: Tim Minchin

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomTim Minchin may not be a recognized name in the United States, but in Australia he is a well-known comedian, actor, musician, writer, and director. He is best known for his musical comedies that have been performed around the world, such as Matilda that received seven Olivier awards. Back in October 2013, his alma mater, The University of Western Australia, honored Minchin with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters and asked him to deliver the commencement speech, which the university calls the “Occasional Address.” His thoughtful, and at time hilarious, speech entitled “Nine Life Lessons” delivered to the 225 Arts and Sciences graduates and their families, manages to pack a lot of wisdom and inspiration in just 12 minutes. Here is Minchin’s memorable graduation speech delivered in his inimitable way:

“In darker days, I did a corporate gig at a conference for this big company who made and sold accounting software. In a bid, I presume, to inspire their salespeople to greater heights, they’d forked out 12 grand for an Inspirational Speaker who was this extreme sports dude who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird. Software salespeople need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic, ex-mountaineer. Some poor guy who arrived in the morning hoping to learn about better sales technique ended up going home worried about the blood flow to his extremities. It’s not inspirational — it’s confusing.

And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he? Cause he didn’t do an arts degree, did he? He should have. Arts degrees are awesome. And they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.

Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise. And I’m certainly not here to give career advice, cause… well I’ve never really had what most would call a proper job.

However, I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance. So I will now — at the ripe old age of 38 — bestow upon you nine life lessons. To echo, of course, the 9 lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service. Which are also a bit obscure.

You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you will find some of it boring, and you will definitely forget all of it within a week. And be warned, there will be lots of hokey similes, and obscure aphorisms which start well but end up not making sense. So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.

1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream. 

Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right? Good. Advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.

2. Don’t Seek Happiness

Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Australophithecus Afarensis got eaten before passing on their genes.

3. Remember, It’s All Luck 

You are lucky to be here. You were incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to Uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy… but you were still lucky: lucky that you happened to be made of the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain which — when placed in a horrible childhood environment — would make decisions that meant you ended up, eventually, graduating Uni. Well done you, for dragging yourself up by the shoelaces, but you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved… but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of going to lectures while I was here at UWA.

Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate. Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.

4. Exercise

I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence: you are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right — you think, therefore you are… but also: you jog, therefore you sleep well, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run… whatever… but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed!

But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it. Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run. And don’t smoke. Natch.

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions 

A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like [assholes], in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from [assholes], in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts grads in front of me: please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things. If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.

You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.

Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.

The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians — including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick — believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

6. Be a teacher.

Please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke — we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.

7. Define Yourself By What You Love

I’ve found myself doing this thing a bit recently, where, if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say “well I don’t listen to the radio because pop lyrics annoy me.” Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious”. And I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff; as a comedian, I make a living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

8. Respect People With Less Power Than You.

I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with — agents and producers — based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.

9. Don’t Rush.

You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having midlife crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance:

You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead. There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.

And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing… but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.

Read related post: Best Commencement Speeches: Khaled Hosseini
Best Commencement Speeches: Ken Burns

Best Commencement Speeches: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Wear Sunscreen Commencement Speech
Best Books for Graduates
Best Books for Graduates 2015

Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

For further reading: http://www.timminchin.com/2013/09/25/occasional-address/
http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201310186163/features/nine-life-lessons-graduate

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What Nobody Tells You When You Graduate College

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIf you wrote a commencement speech, what wisdom would you want to impart to a sea of bright, eager, in-debt-up-to-their-eyeballs college graduates? What should college graduates need to know about the competitive business world? Jon Acuff, an author of five bestselling books (his most recent: Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work & Never Get Stuck), did not let not the lack of an invitation to deliver a commencement speech get in the way of reflecting on his business experience. Although Acuff does not fit the description of the wise, silver-haired octogenarian sage that typically delivers a bombastic, protracted commencement oration, at the cusp of middle age (39) Acuff believes he is up to the task to address college graduates half his age; he explains, “[I] have spent 17 years in the workforce. I’ve worked at big companies and small ones. I’ve been promoted and fired. I’ve started my own business. I found and left my dream job. I’ve learned a lot, mostly the wrong way (and would prefer you didn’t). So before you throw your cap in the air… allow me to share some things nobody will tell you.” Here are the 21 things nobody tells you when you graduate college:

The real world is more fun than grumpy adults have ever told you.

One of your friends will be instantly successful.

Your first job might not involve your major in a major way.

Your 20s are lonelier than you think they’ll be.

Being an adult comes with an obscene amount of paperwork.

Your generation gets unfairly labeled for entitlement. Don’t accept that.

Pay attention in meetings.

Treat email like it matters.

Take risks.

Don’t put off your college loans.

Hold your money with an open hand.

If you move home, make sure you bring an exit strategy with you.

Don’t spend all your time with idiots and then wonder why it’s hard to meet someone great to date.

Don’t ask to work from home the first week of your new job.

Jump into the wild west of side jobs.

Figure out which part of your career needs the most work.

Don’t become a dinosaur.

Don’t burn many bridges.

Put your phone down when you’re talking to someone.

Remember, it’s all an audition.

You are going to start at the bottom. That’s OK.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related post: Best Commencement Speeches: Khaled Hosseini
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Best Books for Graduates 2015

Wisdom of a Grandmother
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For further reading: http://time.com/3849142/life-after-college-graduation/
Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work & Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff
Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done
by Jon Acuff
Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job by Jon Acuff


The Wisdom of a Father

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom“When I was a boy of fourteen,” once wrote American humorist Mark Twain, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” If you are a father, this quotation brings a knowing smile to his face. Of course, only a parent knows that he hasn’t changed in seven years: rather, it is the child who come to understand — through actual life experience — that he should listen to and respect his father’s wisdom because he has lived longer, and with age comes wisdom. In many cases, those life lessons from a father form a firm foundation upon which the edifice of a child’s life is built — and his influence, however subtle, will last a lifetime.

Speaking of that ceaseless paternal influence, there is an insightful and touching essay by motivational speaker and author Mike Robbins entitled “Trusting the Synchronicity of Life.” Upon turning 40, Robbins reflected on the the synchronicity of his life — connecting the dots of his life in hindsight. However, the celebration of his 40th birthday also presented an opportunity to honor the legacy of his deceased father, Ed Robbins, who instilled in Mike and his sisters, valuable and enduring life lessons. Mike recounted how one of his sisters presented him with a list of 40 life lessons, titled “Life According to Ed Robbins,” that Mike had written shortly after his father passed away in 2001. Shrouded by the inevitable “memory fog” of middle age, Mike had completely forgotten about this; he explained, “Amazingly, I had no memory of writing it. But, apparently after my dad died, I made a list of some of his key philosophies and lessons, as a way to remember, honor, and memorialize him. Even more amazing to me than the fact that I didn’t remember writing it… was the nature of what I wrote. So much of the advice on the list, which came from my father and what he taught me and all of us, is similar to the core themes of my work… However, reading this list of life advice and reflecting back on the lessons he did teach me, I’m not only struck by a deep sense of gratitude for what he taught me, but I’m also blown away by the way in which he influenced my life and my work, even more than I’d realized.” Robbins generously shares the life lessons of his father, and by doing so, not only honors his life, but keeps his memory alive. It is also a testimony to the enduring influence of a kind, giving, and wise father who continues to guide his children even after he shuffled off his mortal coil.

The Hebrew Bible, through the Ten Commandments (known as the Decalogue), reminds us to “honor thy father and thy mother (Exodus 20:12). As Father’s Day approaches, perhaps this list of important life lessons will inspire children — of any age — to take a moment and write down the important philosophies and lessons that their father (living or deceased) has taught them. If your father is still alive, then give him this list as a gift and say something along the lines of: “These are the lessons that you taught me, that live inside me — they are your gifts to me. My gift to you is to honor you by remembering these lessons, to use them to guide my life, and to pass them to another generation. Thank you for your wisdom, love, and guidance.” Undoubtedly, this will make a much more appreciated gift than another necktie.

Life Lessons From Ed Robbins

Speak from your heart

Wear your heart on your sleeve

Be passionate and outspoken — do not let anyone stifle your expression

Have love be your top priority

Give kind, positive feedback as often as you possibly can

Remember that you are not your accomplishments — you are you, and people love you for who you are, not what you do

Remember that it’s okay to cry, in fact it’s good to cry often

Hugs and kisses are beautiful and greatly appreciated

Be grateful for your family and always stay connected with them

Make sure you “kiss and make up” after a fight

Cheer loudly at baseball games and always stand up when someone hits one you think might go out of the park

Stand up for the people that you love and be willing to fight for them, if necessary

Root for all your local sports teams — even if you have more than one team from the same sport near where you live

Drive slowly and carefully

Wait for all lights to change before crossing the street

Talk to strangers

Appreciate the beauty of where you are

Never get off the phone with someone you love without saying “I love you.”

Before saying something rude or contradictory, first say “with all due respect…”

Laugh loudly and often

Do not be afraid to get fired up, passionate, and raise your voice when necessary (and even sometimes when not so necessary)

Take lots of photos of people you care about and keep them organized

Save things that are important to you

Be romantic and remember important dates, experiences, and events

Sing the words to songs that you love

Read the newspaper and know what is going on in the world, in sports, in entertainment, and more

Have an opinion on everything!

Be willing to admit when you made a mistake

Forgive yourself and others

Be kind and loving to yourself first

Tell the truth

Stay true to yourself

Appreciate people

It is okay to swear sometimes

It is what’s on the inside that counts

It’s okay to feel down and to feel scared

People are the most important things in life

There is no need to rush when you are eating, driving, or doing almost anything

Money is not that important

You can bounce back from anything

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Wisdom on an Immigrant Father
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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For further reading: www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-robbins/trusting-the-synchronicit_b_4920921.html
Bring Your Whole Self to Work by Mike Robbins
Nothing Changes Until You Do by Mike Robbins
Be Yourself: Everyone Else is Already Taken by Mike Robbins
Focus on the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation by Mike Robbins


Can You Fall in Love in 36 Questions?

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomAh, love and the search for the ideal soul mate. The pursuit of love isn’t easy. Just watch The Bachelor (or The Bachelorette). Ironically, the show that is supposed to be all about love, is the show that people love to hate. Let’s not sugarcoat it, the show is a veritable car wreck — each week it screeches across the pavement, hops over fences, rips up lawns and flower beds, and crashes into the living room of more than 7.5 million Americans, delivering its payload of histrionics and collective mischief. All of which explains the existence of the so-called “Bachelor Nation” — a legion of fans that laughs, jeers, and gags through each episode, anticipating the next one, like a tourist dehydrated from chronic Montezuma’s revenge eagerly awaiting his next drink of bacteria-laced brown water from yet another restaurant.

Although poets wax um… poetically about how love is free — the pursuit of love certainly isn’t free. Consider this: Americans spend more than $760 million per year on matchmaking and the average American spends $1,596 on dating every year. This includes personal grooming, matchmaking services, and of course the obligatory wining and dining. But what if you could find your soulmate for the cost of a cup of coffee (or tea)? That’s right — a few dollars for some life-changing conversation over coffee at a local establishment. For once, this is when the concept of “talk is cheap” is actually a good thing.

Talk is not only cheap (as in free), it can change your life and definitely lead to intimacy (as in “closeness” not the other thing you though of), and paving the way for profound, unconditional love. Meet psychologist Arthur Aron. In 1997, Aron and his colleagues, published a fascinating study, “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings” in the Personality and Social Psychologist Bulletin (Vol 23, No. 4, 1997). They wanted to know if you could help people develop “temporary feelings of closeness” in a lab setting simply through conversation. In their experiment, two complete strangers (cross-sex and same sex pairs, matched so they agreed about important attitudinal issues and expectations of likeability based on initial questionnaires) would enter a lab and sit face to face for 45 minutes to answer 36 questions. The participants were presented three sets of increasingly personal questions focused on self-disclosure and relationship-building. This study was built on the foundation of previous studies in the previous decade by psychologists; Aron elaborates: “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure.”

So, what did the researchers find? Quite remarkably, they found that about one-third of the participants felt as connected to their partner in the lab — in just 36 questions — as they did one of their closest, deepest, most involved relationships outside the study; Aron writes “That is, immediately after about 45 minutes of interaction, this relationship is rated as closer than the closest relationship in the lives of 30% of similar students.” That’s quite an achievement when it has taken thousands of hours of conversations over many years to reach the same level of intimacy with a significant other. Those must be some amazingly insightful and profoundly probing questions that get right to the heart of the matter (if you’ll excuse the pun). In fact, two participants did fall in love and married just six months later. The questions have also inspired a delightful series on YouTube that explores two strangers trying to find love.

To help cupid’s arrow pierce the heart of your future soul mate, here are the questions you should print out and carry with you on your next date. And don’t dilly-dally. Recall that famous line from the famous romantic-comedy, When Harry Met Sally: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with a person, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

Set I
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set II
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

17. What is your most treasured memory?

18. What is your most terrible memory?

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

20. What does friendship mean to you?

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

Set III
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “

26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “

27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: How Do You Find the Ideal Mate?
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Pablo Neruda on Love

The Fluidity of Life and Love
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The Best Love Stories
We Never Lose the People We Love, Even to Death

For further reading: www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html
http://www.statista.com/outlook/371/109/matchmaking/united-states


The Parable of the Farmer and His Fate

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomThere is an age-old Chinese parable about a farmer and his fate. It goes something like this: there once lived an old farmer who had diligently tended to his crops for many years. He relied on his trusty, hard-working horse to plow the fields. But one day, the horse broke through the fence and ran away. Upon hearing this news, the farmer’s neighbors rushed over to the farmer to voice their concern. “What bad luck this is,” they said, “You will not have your horse during the critical planting season.” The farmer listened intently, nodding his head as if in agreement, smiling slightly. Then he spoke softly, “Bad luck, good luck — who really knows?”

A few days later the horse, accompanied by two wild horses, returned to the farmer’s stable. The farmer immediately realized that he could train these two new horses to help him plow his field more efficiently. Soon after, the neighbors heard about this and visited the farmer. “You are now blessed with three strong horses,” they said in unison, “What great luck this is!” But the laconic farmer simply replied, “Good luck, bad luck — who really knows?”

The farmer gave one of the untamed horses to his son. While riding the horse, the son was thrown off and broke his leg. The farmer’s neighbors came around again and expressed their worry, “It is a shame that your son will not be able to help you during planting season. This is such bad luck!” The farmer smiled faintly, and said “Bad luck, good luck — who really knows?”

A few days later, the Chinese emperor’s army rode ominously into town under gray clouds. The general’s order was to draft the eldest son from every family into the army. One of the soldiers took one look at the farmer’s son’s broken leg and motioned to have him left behind. The army marched out of town while tearful residents waved goodbye to their sons, knowing that they may not see them again. Later in the day, the neighbors gathered at the farmer’s house. “You are the only family that did not have their son drafted into the army,” they said. “This is such good luck!” The farmer, who was busy with his chores, looked up and said, “Good luck, bad luck — who really knows?”

This timeless Chinese parable teaches us that luck can be paradoxical — bad luck can be very good luck (and vice-versa). Another lesson is that fate — whether considered “good luck” or “bad luck” — is a matter of perspective. This is one of the greatest lessons that Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, teaches us: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” [Emphasis added] from Man’s Search for Meaning published in 1946.

The parable also reminds us of the famous proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” that originated in the late 1800s. That is to say, one should never feel down and hopeless because challenging times lead to happier, better days ahead. The proverb also introduces a very important metaphor about life — every situation in life is transitory; gray clouds that create dark days will eventually pass, allowing the sun’s radiant light to shine through. Or expressed another way, no matter how dark the night, each dawn ushers in a new day full of hope and new opportunities.

At another level, the parable teaches about a very important life lesson: acceptance. Rather than creating drama around a situation that is either “good luck” or “bad luck” it is best to follow the Taoist tradition of detachment and acceptance. It is important not to celebrate the good luck or scorn the bad luck too excessively. Moreover, it is critical to simply accept life as it is, rather than expending energy to consider what could have been or should have been. Only then one can fully consider the question that my Jesuit mentors often posed: “what is the next, best step?”

There is an absolutely brilliant discussion of fate and misfortunate, through the lens of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, by an erudite, insightful young (as in high school aged) scholar titled: The Consolation of Adversity’s Sweet Milk, Philosophy. If you are passionate about literature and/or philosophy, you will definitely find it fascinating and thought-provoking; moreover it will inspire you to pick up and read (or re-read) two timeless classics.

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Read related posts: The Parable of the Carpenter’s Son
The Parable of the Ship Mechanic
The Mayonnaise Jar and Cups of Coffee
The Wisdom of a Grandparent
The Wisdom of Parents
The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac

For further reading: https://www.knowyourphrase.com/every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

 


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