Are We Living Through Horrible Times? Maybe.

To say we’re living in a strange era would be an understatement akin to saying Amazon is just an online retailer. This week alone we witnessed a massive hurricane, devastating wildfires, the unyielding pandemic, pervasive racism that spurred civil unrest, protests from professional athletes, and economic uncertainty. To top it off, we’ve experienced the most divisive and angry political conventions in our nation’s history with both parties suggesting that the end of our democracy may be near.

It’s easy to get emotionally depleted in what feels like a never-ending cycle of bad news. But turbulent times also can lead to positive transformations. While the news seems bleak on the surface, perhaps history will reflect this period as an important impetus that yielded meaningful progress. As we weather the storms, it’s important that we remain open-minded, reserving judgement until the upheaval subsides. It reminds me of the famous Taoist story about an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years:

One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy for what they called his “misfortune.”

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

A situation that feels catastrophic in the moment may eventually reveal itself to be a blessing. In the same way we can’t predict the winner of a sporting event until the final buzzer has sounded, we must remain open to the full set of possibilities as we fight through these trying times.

Like the farmer, let’s remove judgement until after the dust settles. In the meantime, maybe there are new opportunities in the charred rubble. Maybe unrest will lead to long-overdue reform. Maybe the natural disasters will motivate us to better care for our planet. Maybe the combative political discourse will give way to a more collaborative and respectful dialog.

As the fires rage on, both literally and metaphorically, let’s do our best to stay safe, learn from adversity, and emerge stronger after enduring the struggle. Maybe the craziness will lead to a better future for us all.