Pop quiz: label the following situations as either good or bad:
-A car accident
-A wedding between 2 people deeply in love with each other
-The Great Depression
-Winning the lottery
-A job promotion
-Death of a loved one
-The company you work for is downsizing
-A customer screams in your face about how poorly you’re doing your job
-You run into a long lost friend
-Someone spills hot coffee on your lap
-You buy a new car
-Smoking a cigarette after quitting for a year
-The Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl
-A sunny, 80-degree day with a slight breeze
-A baby’s first steps
-The car in the previously mentioned accident has 4 murderers inside and it crashes into a giant propane tank outside of a convention center hosting a murderer’s convention, and everybody dies in the ensuing explosion
-You’re confronted with a pop quiz when all you want to do is read a blog
No matter who you are, when you labeled the previous situations, you probably had a pretty good idea of what you would consider bad and what you would consider good. I’m also willing to bet that not everyone would agree on each one of these. A Pittsburgh Steelers fan may label a Browns Super Bowl victory as bad (and, let’s face it, would probably would label “death of a loved one” as good), a Buddhist monk may label the mass-murderer-massacre as bad, or you may love the burning sensation of scalding hot coffee on your crotch. The point I am trying to make is succinctly quoted by one of the most respected and brilliant minds throughout history, the Bard himself: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
“But I just got laid off from my job, that’s obviously a bad thing!”
I’m very sorry about your job, but let me reiterate: THERE IS NOTHING EITHER GOOD OR BAD, BUT THINKING MAKES IT SO. I know this is a difficult concept to entertain because we are raised and educated in a world where everything is either good or bad, but this is a linear way of thinking in a world where we are able to think without constraints. Ultimately, the determination of what is good and what is bad is subjective, proving that there is no consensus on what is truly good and what is truly bad. I could walk outside right now and say, “I love this crisp weather. Being able to see my own breath is hella cool,” while the person next to me says, “This weather is miserable… and also did you just say ‘hella cool?’” By attaching a good or bad label to something external, even though we’re both looking at the same thing, the experience we get from it is going to be completely different. Once we slap the almighty “good” or “bad” label onto something, our internal filters will only allow us to see the things that fall in line with that label. So He-Who-Hates-the-Cold, no matter what happens, will only find the things that make him miserable when it comes to winter. Whether he knows it or not, his labeling ensures his negative experience of winter. Meanwhile, He-Who-Loves-The-Cold will miss out on the negative and, thus, miss out on an opportunity to learn and grow. Labeling something as either X or Y causes us to miss out on all of the other letters of the alphabet.
“So if I don’t label things as good or bad, then what do I do? How will I live? Things have to be classified as something, otherwise what is there to live for?”
You’ll live better without this classification system. Another side effect of thinking in terms of good and bad is the fact that it brings pain into our lives. (Disclaimer: from this point forward, I will be putting quotes around the words “good” and “bad.”) At the end of every day, I used to pray and thank God for letting me have a “good” day. If I didn’t have a “good” day, I would skip that part of my prayer. To label something as good is to admit that there is a possible opposite, or a “bad,” and that if things can’t be labeled as “good,” then they’re “bad.” Because there’s a “bad” on the flip-side of the “good,” we live with a constant underlying fear of when the “good” goes away and the “bad” comes back. Because the laws of the universe state that like will always attract like, living in a state of fearing the “bad” grows that fear, and when we make choices in a state of fear, we create more of exactly what it is that we fear: the “bad.”
“So THAT’S why I lost my job. When I got promoted, it was good, but being so worried about losing money – or the bad – actually made me lose my job. How could I be so stupid??”
Actually, no. You didn’t lose your job because you were worried about the “bad.” You probably didn’t have any control over the fact that you lost your job, but the label you attach to it does affect what happens next.
“I want what happens next to be good- er- …well, you know what I mean. How do I stop labeling so I can do that?”
Even if we stop doing something, say a bad habit, it will always come back unless it is replaced by something else. Nothing is “good” or “bad,” but everything has, within it, an underlying good, or an opportunity, if you are looking for it. EVERYTHING. If something is labeled as “good” or “bad,” we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow from it because we’ve already determined what that thing means to us. Subsequently, we resist the chance for growth. For example, with the Ferguson, Missouri incident, it is glaringly obvious who has labeled the outcome as “good” or “bad” because of their actions. Angry tweets, looting, protesting, arguing, etc. are the result of labels being attached to an external incident that we don’t have any control over. Because of this, many opportunities for growth are being missed and events like this will continue to occur. I realized the power of the underlying good when my aunt was murdered. It was easy to label the situation as “bad,” because a life was tragically lost. But I didn’t like the emotions that my labeling created, so I learned to see things differently. By looking for the opportunity to grow, I began to grasp the power of laughter. Because I chose to see a tragic situation, not in terms of black and white, but in terms of how I could improve myself in response to the situation, I began a journey into a career in comedy and as a writer. Without that powerful realization, you wouldn’t be reading this and I would probably be complaining on social networks along with everyone else.
It’s time to make a difference and this message must be spread. If we are to improve as a society, we must change our perspective first. Human beings aren’t made to think in terms of either or, we’re made to expand ourselves through critical thinking. By searching for the underlying good in every situation, our brains will filter out everything that won’t contribute to our growth, rather than everything that supports our “good” or “bad” labeling. Any time you hear yourself labeling something as “good” or “bad,” remember: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.