I have written before about the story of a professor who was introduced to a young man’s family at a school reunion. The professor is confused by the importance the student places on the meeting because he had never realized that his actions from 20 years ago had prevented that student from committing suicide.
The reason the meeting was important was that, without that professor, the kids never get the chance to even exist. And yet, if he could remember the chance meeting that made all that difference, the professor may well have deemed that a ‘bad day.’
This brings up the question: what makes a day good or bad? The events, or our thoughts about the events? Consider this:
For the first several weeks over the new year, a wellness column I do on CBC Radio’s Radio Active program had its installments land on terrible days with super-icy roads. That made the rush hour drive to the studio long and treacherous, with massive lines of delayed traffic that almost prevented me from making it on time.
Each time I was just happy to have made it there. For their part, the hosts and producers were focused on ensuring the show was to its usual excellent standards, and they did a great job of keeping everyone informed about the traffic. At that point those were days where we felt like we’d survived them.
Likewise, if we asked the people who had car accidents or who missed appointments that day, it was terrible weather that ruined their day. And yet:
It may have been their accident that held up traffic so much that some listeners heard the column, when better weather and no accident would have meant they would have already been home, and they would have no longer been listening.
As it turns out, some of those people heard those columns and passively liked them. But that didn’t mean anything until once the pandemic hit and they watched loved ones spiral into substance abuse, personal harm or even suicidal thoughts. That was when they got in touch with me based on those earlier ‘bad day’ columns.
I am happy to report that, over the last few weeks, all of the people I was contacted about are now doing much better, and each can see much brighter, longer term healthy futures for themselves. But what’s important to note is that none of that good news could even happen without what many assumed was a terrible day, with icy roads, accidents, and delays.
The example is a nice case of Buddhist causality. Thanks to a chain of people who were inspired to go into radio, they created a great show that attracted an audience. That lead listeners to be tuned in during bad weather.
Then, thanks to some car accidents and backed up traffic, some people hear a part of the show they normally wouldn’t. That leads them to contact me two months later and lives get saved. That’s how weird and flexible the world is.
The truth is, we rarely ever know the value of any day, we just know too little about where the ripples of our actions go. Two months before those just seemed like tough days with little meaning. Yet, as time demonstrated, in reality the show, the drive, the traffic and those challenges were all a part of saving some lives.
Examples like this are why we should never believe that our egos are qualified to judge our lives or anyone else’s. Like that professor, we’re simply too unaware of all of the unintended impacts that we create, and we tend to only note the negative effects, not the positive ones.
I doubt anyone who got up that morning to work on that radio show thought they were going to save some lives two months in the future, but they absolutely played a key role. And for all we know, today, each of us may join such a chain without even knowing it.
No one should ever assume their life does not have value. As that day proved, even our most innocuous days can have an enormous impact under the right conditions.
Rather than using our thoughts to make today ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ we are better to just experience the day and then leave it to mature because, given time, many ‘bad’ ones manage to grow into some of the best we’ll ever have.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.