This week has been an emotional rollercoaster.
Without going into too much detail, someone close to me is dealing with a pretty serious medical diagnosis. As a result, I’ve essentially been on a revolving carousel of receiving good news, then bad news, then worse news, then news that was only “good” in comparison to the bad news, and then finally some good-ish news. And as is the way of medical diagnoses, all of this was interspersed throughout with maddening periods of no news whatsoever.
After going through all this back and forth, I’m left with a new opinion about the concepts of good news and bad news. That opinion? That living in whiplash is infinitely worse than just being dealt a single devastating blow.
Getting bad news is one thing- you hear it, and then you’re bummed out. Cut and dry.
But getting bad news, then getting good news, then getting bad news again in rapid succession like that is a completely different thing. It’s all the turmoil of getting bad news, but with an added twist of the knife that just serves to make sure you’re completely unable to manage your expectations.
It reminds me of a joke from the television show Monk. The main character is asked, in the classic fashion, “Do you want me to give you the good news or the bad news first?”
“I don’t know,” he agonizes in response, “Because if you give me the good news first, I’m not going to be able to enjoy it because I’ll be wondering what the bad news is. But if you give me the bad news first, I’m still going to be thinking about that when you tell me the good news and I still won’t get to enjoy it.”
Bad news and good news just don’t play nice together. The bad news always finds a way to steal the show, to ruin any silver lining of the situation that was brought out by hearing the good news.
So in the end, I just had to stop quantifying things as “good news” and “bad news”. It’s the only way to stay sane in these situations. News is just news. No positives, no negatives- just information, to be taken as it comes.
That might sound like a delusional rejection of reality, but I think you can look at it as just embracing a healthier outlook on life. I’ll leave you with an old fable on the subject that I encountered this week. The version I’m sharing here was penned by lecturer Alan Watts.
The Story of the Chinese Farmer
Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.”
The farmer said, “Maybe.”
The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!”
The farmer again said, “Maybe.”
The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”
The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!”
Again, he said, “Maybe.”
The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.