Good? Bad? Neither?
How many times a day do you use the words “good” or “bad” or any of their synonyms or variations?
“How are you today?” – “Good, and you?” “The weather is awful today!” “I need to work on this horrible project!” “I’ve had such a great day!” “This is such a nice cup of coffee!” “This apple is delicious!” “The traffic is driving me crazy!” “That driver is a moron!” “You look beautiful today!….”
Since the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we close them at night, habitually we judge every single object, person, place, animal or idea – EVERYTHING that comes into our awareness – and mentally assign a plus or a minus to it: ‘This is good/lovely/beautiful/pleasant/nice/soothing/tasty/great/delicious/awesome…., but this is annoying/bad/horrible/terrible/awful/nasty/unpleasant/dreadful/horrific…” We express these ideas in verbs as well: “I like/hate/love/adore/can’t stand/despise/enjoy/detest/loathe…”
WHAT IF we didn’t have any words like that? And not only that – what if we didn’t NEED any words like that? What if we were unable to think in those terms? What if EVERYTHING and EVERYONE just were the way they were and we didn’t have any opinion about them, regardless of their behavior, size, shape, form, taste, smell, temperature, brightness, dryness……..
My very first job in Russia was teaching English to Russian day care children aged 2 to 7. I was finishing my Master’s in linguistics and for 30 minutes twice a week I met with three different groups of kids and taught them simple English words and phrases.
One day we were discussing weather and seasons. I was showing them different pictures, teaching them phrases like, “It’s sunny. It’s cloudy. It’s cold. It’s hot. It’s raining. It’s snowing. It’s winter. It’s summer…” After some practice, I pointed at the window and asked, “What’s the weather like today?” The children replied, “It’s cold. It’s raining. It’s windy. It’s autumn.” I was happy to see them correctly apply what they’d just learned.
Then I followed with a question we learned several lessons ago: “Do you like it?” No one answered the question and the children looked puzzled. I repeated the question, “Do you like it? Do you like such weather? Do you like it when it’s cold and rainy? Do you like autumn?” No matter how hard I tried, there was no progress – the students still looked very confused and I still couldn’t get any answer out of any of them.
Then I switched to their first language – Russian – and asked again: “Do you like autumn? Do you feel happy or unhappy when it’s raining? Do you prefer cold or warm weather?”
Asking these questions in Russian didn’t make any difference at all and this is when it hit me: “It’s not that they do not understand the words I am using, it’s just that they do not understand the concept of having an opinion about the weather!!!”
When I had woken up that morning, I looked out of the window and saw that there was no sun, the naked trees were being mercilessly pushed left and right by the wild wind, the fallen rusty leaves were rotting in the puddles of water and dirt on the ground, and the pouring rain was fiercely drumming on the roofs and windows. When I saw all of that, my whole body shrank and my mood dropped…
On the way to that day care, I was standing on a crowded bus – cold, wet, angry, surrounded by too many other people who were just as unhappy and cranky as I was and whose wet umbrellas were poking my legs…
So when I asked my little students how they liked the weather that day, I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that they were feeling about it the same way I was – HATING it! When I realized that not only did they not hate that weather or day or anyone, but they did not even have a reference point for it – they were not thinking that way about the world, – I was dumbstruck!!!
Looking at the sweet and innocent faces of these young children, showing a sincere desire to understand what I wanted from them and struggling to process my questions even after hearing them in their native language, I suddenly remembered being their age and not knowing such concepts either!
I remembered that water on the ground meant rubber boots and walking in the puddles. Rain and wind meant the fun adventure of wearing a rain coat, catching rain drops with my mouth and feeling them land on my cheeks, forehead and eye lashes. It also meant more time inside, doing all the things I loved to do – drawing, painting, doing puzzles, playing with my day care friends, getting a warm drink…
I suddenly remembered not seeing any life circumstances as “intrinsically good or bad,” to just waking up to another day of game, fun and adventures and being happy and joyous just to be on this planet…
I was twenty years old and it was my first realization that we ourselves create our own experiences by the way we choose to think about ourselves and our life situations…
After that I got caught up in the “adult life” and completely forgot about this valuable insight, and now, more than 15 years later, I am asking myself Byron Katie’s questions: “What would happen – who would I be, how would I feel, how would my life go – if all of a sudden I were physically incapable of assigning pluses and minuses to everything that enters my awareness, if I completely lost the ability to judge anything as good or bad and saw everything with the eyes of wonder, acceptance and adventure – the way I used to thirty years ago, the way we all used to when the world was full of magic, gifts and treasures!..
I would like to leave you with an invitation to play a fun game. If you decided to become aware of every “negative” or “positive” word you use – mentally, orally or in written form – in one day, what do you think the number would be? Just make a guess! Do you care to find out if your number were correct?
If you do choose to carry out this little experiment, I would really love to hear about your findings!