Blind men, an elephant, and labels


Written January 19th at 10:28PM in my living room with a glass of red wine and a few pieces of dark chocolate.

The story of the Chinese farmer goes something like this:

There was a wise Chinese farmer whose horse ran off. When his neighbor came to console him the farmer said, “Who know’s what’s good or bad?”

When his horse returned the next day with a herd of horses following her, the foolish neighbor came to congratulate him on his good fortune. 

“Who knows what’s good or bad?” said the farmer.

Then, when the farmer’s son broke his leg trying to ride one of the new horses, the foolish neighbor came to console him again.

“Who knows what’s good or bad?” said the farmer.

Then, when the farmer’s son broke his leg trying to ride one of the new horses, the foolish neighbor came to console him again.

“Who knows what’s good or bad?” said the farmer.

When the army passed through, conscripting men for war, they passed over the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. When the foolish man came to congratulate the farmer that his son would be spared, again the farmer said, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” 

I first came across this story in a book written by Steve Hagen, “The practice of being aware, right now, every day. Buddhism: Plain & Simple.”

At the end of the story Steve writes that Socrates once said that we carry on as though death were the greatest calamities-yet for all we know, it might be the greatest blessing.

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to define every circumstance and event in our lives. Hunting for labels to define things that we feel uncertain about, are confused about, or are uncomfortable with. Assigning a word to something uncertain It happens all the time and it extends much further than just good and bad.

We define food as either good or bad
We rush to put a label on a girlfriend, boyfriend, or fiance
We may label ourselves as smart or dumb, successful or unsuccessful, pretty or ugly.

The same words that we use to DESCRIBE what we see can actually DETERMINE what we see. What I mean by this is that labels are often treated as real and definitive, rather than simple representations of reality. When something becomes labeled, such as good or bad, pretty or ugly, or boy-friend/girlfriend it changes the way we perceive things almost in an instant. Soon after your behaviors towards that new label may change as well.

There is a theory out there known as the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis that argues the language you use on a daily basis affects the way you see the world.

If negative tones, words, and thoughts are constantly present you will tend to see the world as a tough, pessimistic, and difficult. The opposite holds true if your thoughts, words, and tones are positive, optimistic, and express gratitude.

old man grumbling ...

Blind men and an elephant

There is a famous story about six blind men in India that would argue day in and day out about elephants. Their fascination with the animal started because they would hear such miraculous stories about how they could trample forests, carry large burdens, and frighten young and old with their loud trumpet calls. However, they were also aware that the Rajeh’s daughter would ride elephants when she traveled back and forth to her fathers kingdom. This surprised the blind men, that the Rajeh would allow his daughter to ride such a dangerous animal.

The town these men lived in grew tired of their arguing about what an elephant looked liked, felt like, and acted like. Growing tired of the blind mens arguing about elephants, villagers of the town arranged for the men to vista the palace to experience elephants first hand.

As the blind men arrived at the palace each had an opportunity to approach and touch and elephant.

  • The first blind man touches the sturdy side and declares the elephant to be very much like a wall.
  • The second blind man felt the elephant’s sharp tusk and declared the elephant to be like a great spear.
  • The third blind man grasped at the squirming trunk and, with positive authority, announced that elephants are certainly like snakes.
  • The fourth blind man slid his hands along the elephant’s broad knee and said that clearly an elephant can be best described as a tree.
  • Now the fifth blind man examined the elephant’s waving ear, and was convinced that the elephant was some sort of fan.
  • And the last, the sixth blind man grabbing at the elephant’s swinging tail declared to all around that an elephant is absolutely like a rope.

The moral of the story is that what you see everyday is created through your own perceptions and limited personal experiences. This is why trying new things, taking on personal challenged, sitting down with others, and continuing to self educate is so important. It completely opens the doors to a broader perception and respect for others, thoughts, and ideas.

When I was in high-school

I’m pretty sure a third of my high school career was spent suspended. No prom, no homecoming, no other typical high school fun was experienced by me. I was always suspended due to some mischief myself and a few other buddies insisted on getting into. From letting live chickens loose, to streaking assemblies, or parking cars in the schools main hallway, we did it all. Long story short I was a trouble-maker.

My grades were poor and school came secondary. I was living up to my “trouble-maker” label.

Labels can be very powerful things. Often when they are placed expectations are assumed and those that carry them can feel the need to live up to them.

Some of the more obvious places we place labels are on others or ourselves. But what about labeling problems? Ever done that before?

I’m too old
I must have this in order to be __________
I don’t deserve____________
Others are better than me so why try? There’s no point.
This or that doesn’t work for me
Life is a struggle
People are idiots
I can’t lose weight, it’s in my genes
I always attracted the wrong guys/girls
I’m so broke, I just don’t have enough money to ____________
That’s just how I was raised.

Those are just a few examples of how we might use limiting beliefs to define our problems or circumstances. Any thoughts or words you accept as true, often become true. You act consistently with how you think.

If you don’t believe you can lose weight because of your genetics then your efforts will show. If you don’t believe you can do it, why put all the effort into it?

No Failure, only feedback

Start erasing limiting beliefs and engaging empowering beliefs by practicing.

“No failure, only feedback” is a great quote from Robert Allen. Such a great way to view a setback, always seem them as an opportunity to learn. Repeat this to yourself if you’ve had a personal setback. What can you learn from it? What changes can you make?

No problems, only challenges, that create opportunities A problem is difficulty that needs to be resolved. A challenge is a stimulating situation. An opportunity is a challenge that can be resolved with a positive outcome. What positive outcomes can come from the challenge that is ahead of you?

My past does not equal my future What’s done is done. That can never be changed. Stop dwelling on past decisions, experiences, or results. Learn from them but get busy creating now. One small step each day. What is something you can do for five minutes today that will get you one step closer to a goal?

I choose my destiny You’re a painter. Everyday you wake up with a blank canvas. What do you want to create?

Expectations - Roland in Vancouver459.jpg


You may have some expectations for yourself. Hell, maybe your boss, family, or friends have expectations of you. If you’re a parent you may have certain expectations for your kids. I think it’s safe to say we all try to live up to our expectations and you probably want others to live up to theirs as well.

I expect a lot out of myself as I am sure most of you do as well. Sometimes those expectations can get pretty damn taxing on me. Stress, anxiety, discomfort, and questioning what am I really doing can come into play.

As I think about the expectations I place upon myself I know that the best way to handle them is by closing the gap between what I perceive will happen and what actually will happen.

I know, I know… how in the hell do you know what will actually happen.

You won’t. If you do, I am thoroughly impressed and would love for you to teach me.

What I try my best to do is come up with the best explanation for the results based on the evidence that is laid before me.

I ask myself what went right?
What went wrong?
What were my behaviors that led to these things?

If you have a goal to lose 10 pounds this month are you consistently making decisions and taking action that will lead to those results?

If you want to start your own business by August first are you setting time a side in the evenings or one weekends to work on your project?

Don’t forget to keep track. How will you know how you’re doing if you don’t keep track. There is a great APP called Lift that will easily allow you to track your progress from your phone. Want to read 30 minutes per day, Go for a jog every morning, eat a Paleo breakfast? Keep track to see how you’re doing.

What labels have you been putting on yourself or others? Comment below.

Live limitless,