Maybe . . . .
There is a Taoist story of 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 on 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.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet
When my granddaughter was born six years ago, I held her in my arms about an hour after she arrived in this world. As I looked at her beautiful, peaceful face, I understood what Chade-Meng Tan, author of Search Inside Yourself, meant when he said, “Happiness is the default state of mind.” I also got a glimpse of the complex Buddhist philosophy of emptiness.
Parker was “empty.” She had no beliefs, opinions, or prejudices. She didn’t care if I was old, young, black, white, yellow or green. She hadn’t been programmed yet. But, even as I held her, life was starting to write the code that would control her until she reached a point in her life where she learned how to take back control of her mind.
Parker is very fortunate because she has some wonderful programmers in her life. She has loving parents and grandparents who model, most of the time, good behaviors and attitudes. Whenever she leaves, she says, “I love you” because that’s what she’s seen her parents do. Most of her programming is going to get her through life successfully.
Not all of us have been as fortunate as Parker. Some of us had some bad programmers in our life who have written some faulty code that causes a rough ride through life. Our unexamined beliefs have caused behaviors that were not always in our best interest.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I would paraphrase that by saying, “Unexamined beliefs are not worth having. If your beliefs can withstand an assault of “why” and still stand, it’s probably a pretty good belief, or at least a belief that we’ve consciously decided to keep.
Shortly after Barack Obama’s first election, NPR interviewed a group of old guys in Louisiana who had a tradition of gathering under an old oak tree every weekend. She interviewed one of them and asked his age. “I’m 75, he replied.” Then she asked if he had voted for Obama. He replied, “Nope. I don’t vote for no Black people. That’s just the way I was brought up.”
How sad. That man had lived for 75 years with a belief that had been programmed into him by his parents and his culture and apparently had never subjected that belief to intense scrutiny and an all-out assault of “why.” He was a prisoner of his programming. “That’s just the way I was brought up.”
“Doubt everything. Find your own light.”
― Gautama Buddha
The older I get, the more convinced I am that the ability to question our beliefs is one of the keys to personal growth, success and happiness.
“In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”
― Mark Twain