Many of us get in the habit of labeling and judging our circumstances as good or bad. This habit is incredibly natural to us. Being rich is good; being poor is bad. Having a family is good; being alone is bad. Winning is good; losing is bad. Being healthy is good; getting sick or injured is bad. Life is good; death is bad. And so on.
2 Problems with Judging Our Circumstances
There are 2 key problems with judging our circumstances as good or bad:
- We can’t be absolutely sure. Can you be absolutely sure that the best thing for your ultimate personal and spiritual growth is to be rich rather than poor? Probably not. I think you could make a case either way. Very few things in life are purely good or purely bad. Most circumstances are a mixed bag. But when we are quick to label circumstances as good or bad, we miss the nuance. We don’t see the good in the bad, or the bad in the good.
- We give away our power. When we label circumstances as good or bad, we give the circumstances in our life too much power over how we are doing. The reality is that we have responsibility and control over our reactions to any situation, no matter how “good” or “bad” the situation appears to be on the surface. Don’t give away your power by giving too much weight to your circumstances.
The Stoics had a saying that helped them navigate the range of circumstances we face in life: Amor Fati. Amor Fati means “love of fate.” Basically, the philosophy said that we should love all the events that happen in our life, even the ones we think are negative, because everything can be used to help us improve our lives and character. Everything is “grist for the mill,” so to speak.
The next time you encounter a circumstance that you feel a pull to label good or bad, try this simple exercise: Turn it around. For example, if you get injured, and you immediately think: “Getting injured is bad,” turn it around. How could the thought “Getting injured is good” be true for you? Try to think of at least 3 examples for how getting injured might be good in your life. For example, maybe it could help build your character or fortitude. Maybe it could help you connect and empathize with others who are struggling. See if this exercise can help you view your circumstances in a more nuanced way.
Discussion: Do you struggle with labeling your circumstances as good or bad? What do you think of the philosophy of Amor Fati? When you sense yourself shifting into judging mode, see if you can turn your judgment around.