“Life cannot be calculated. That’s the big mistake our civilization made. We never accepted that randomness is not a mistake in the equation – it is part of the equation.”
– Jeanette Winterson
I write these letters every week and sometimes they are easy to write and other times I’m confounded. It’s not usually writer’s block, it’s more reconciling the week and deciding on what I’d like to emphasize. I’ve had a dizzying week and I sit here today wondering if I could even possibly pick just one thing to write about. Nonetheless, time marches on and the Desk of Brad is due to be published.
We all use events as markers in time. They are artifacts that help us organize our lives, think of them as the constructs or the lattice we use to give ourselves purpose and emotional stability. All of these rituals and habits settle our minds so we can function in a world of randomness. So, I want you to imagine yourself getting ready in the morning. You’re thinking about the vacation you’ve got planned … your mind wanders through the details; you smile as you think about the beach and how much fun you’re going to have. You make a mental note about seeing if you can use your miles to upgrade your seat on the flight and then remember that you need to buy a new swimsuit. Off you go, your day gets started.
What isn’t immediately obvious is that the whole rest of your day is full of random events. You might unexpectedly run into an old friend at Starbucks or your computer hard drive will suddenly fail. Even though life follows basic patterns that you’ve constructed, it’s interspersed with random events. Some are considered good and some are considered bad, but either way, your whole life is a mental expectation that is interrupted by randomness. An interesting book that I’d recommend is called The Improbability Principle by the renowned statistician David J. Hand. His position is that one in a million events happen all the time. He goes so far as to say that statistically speaking, we experience a miracle event roughly once a month.
The reason I mention all of this to you is that whether you recognized it or not, you live in ambiguity. None of us really know what today or tomorrow brings. As I mentioned earlier, the challenge with our lives today is that all of the suppositions and constructs we use to create stability have been interrupted, so we need to invent new methods of coping. The isolation and ambiguity of the COVID-19 crisis can be overcome with a little reframing and shaping of your thinking.
I’d like to leave you with a famous Proverb that my mentor at Microsoft used to share with me whenever I was worried or stressed. It has become a permanent part of how I choose to approach my life.
The Story of Chan:
A farmer named Chan and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away, and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
The moral of this story is, of course, that no event in and of itself can truly be judged as good or bad, lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate, but that only time will tell the whole story. No one really lives long enough to find out the ‘whole story,’ so it could be considered a great waste of time to judge minor inconveniences as misfortunes, or to invest tons of energy into things that look outstanding on the surface, but may not pay off in the end.
The wiser thing, then, is to live life in moderation, keeping as even temperament as possible, taking all things in stride, whether they originally appear to be ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Life is much more comfortable if we accept what we’re given and make the best of our life circumstances. Rather than always having to pass judgment on things and declare them as good or bad, it would be better to just sit back and say, “It will be interesting to see what happens.”
While we are all challenged during this time, remember that none of us can see the whole story, we all experience it one moment at a time. Let’s focus on being grateful and put our energy into supporting our loved ones, and each other.
Let’s go be great,