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When life throws you dirt

January 21, 2014

The other day we were having lunch with a friend and as is with any great company, we had some good conversation going. One of the things we talked about is how challenging life is becoming as years go by. It doesn’t matter which area of life you look at but the truth is, challenges are in all aspects of life. So as we were talking about the professional front, I realized that both of us were going through the same issues; betrayal, backstabbing, bad-mouthing, etc. You name it, we have either encountered it in the past or we are experiencing it now. This somehow reminded me of a story I once read on the net about an old horse that found itself in a very tricky situation….

Once upon a time there was a farmer who had an old horse. One day as the horse was roaming the fields, it fell into a deep dry well and began to cry loudly. Hearing his horse cry, the farmer came over and assessed the situation. The well was deep and the horse was heavy. He knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to lift the animal out. Since the horse was old and the well was dry, the farmer decided to bury the animal in the well. In this way he could solve two problems: put the old horse out of his misery and have his well filled, thus eliminating any more accidents like this in the future. He called upon his neighbors to help him and they agreed to help.

To work they went. Shovel full of dirt after shovel full of dirt began to fall on the horse’s back. When he (the horse) realized what was happening, he became hysterical and wailed even louder. Then all of a sudden he fell silent and everyone around the well thought he had finally succumbed. In actual fact, what was happening in the hole was that an idea had come to the horse’s mind. You see, each time they would throw a shovel full of dirt on his back he could shake it off and step up. Shovel full after shovel full, the horse would shake it off and step up. Finally, completely exhausted and dirty, but quite alive and victorious, the horse stepped over the top of the well and walked through the crowd to freedom, leaving the crowd astonished and somehow feeling guilty.

If it were possible to talk, can you imagine the conversation this horse would have had with his owner thereafter? Talk about a new definition of an awkward situation, for me, this is it. Of course it was quite obvious that the owner had given up on him hence the shoveling of dirt into the well. However, the horse opted to turn the situation to his advantage by using that same dirt to save his life. How is that for a positive mental attitude?

What a great attitude, and a great way to approach life. Shake it off and step up. Too often we hold on to what has happened to us. And too often we lose the vision of what could happen to us if only we would learn to look at things differently. I would not be surprised if the horse went back to his owner and thanked him profusely for shoveling dirt into the hole. He probably told him something like, “I know you meant well when you started shoveling dirt into the hole, thinking I would die and hence be out of my misery. But I thank you for you gave me a new perspective towards life. I realized that I don’t have to let all the dirt (read bad things) that happen to me stick on me. I realized I could shake them off and move on. Thank you my dear trusted master for allowing me to learn this lesson.”

Unfortunately most of us are not like this horse. We are grudge prone and as a result, whenever something bad is done to us, we hold on to it for as long as we can; a week, a month or a few years maybe. We use that as a vital element in our pity-parties. We cannot shake it loose from our memory and as a result, it eats away at us and steals our joy, happiness and peace of mind. The past hurt can create feelings of bitterness, resentment, anger and revenge that make it hard for us to enjoy the present, which in return affects how we perceive and live the future as well.

Like the farmer had intended for the horse, we have all these emotions being thrown on our backs and if we do nothing, with every shovel of “dirt” thrown to our lives, we will be buried alive deep in the well. In the end, we will realize that we have built walls in our relationships that cause us to avoid each other and hence the beginning of a long cold war. The beauty of it all is that we all have a choice: either to keep it inside and embrace the hurt or shake it off and step out of the well of bitterness.

It could be words that have been said or actions that have been done; you need to shake it off and step up. Whatever it is, be it a rude comment, a past mistake, being ignored, being lied to, being abused and used, you name it, we can choose to stew over it all week or all year where it occupies us all the time and hinders us from performing at optimum. Too often we nurse hurts, we keep them alive inside and go over them time and time again; not only stewing from them, but now chewing them over and over until we are sick. Too often we rehearse hurts, tell everyone what has happened to us. It’s time to let go.

But how does one let go? It is not easy, but it can be done. The first step is to accept what has happened, try to make sense out of it, learn from it, then shake it off and step up. So how do you shake it off? Of course I don’t mean shaking it off literally like the horse did, but I mean by applying the most magical technique known to mankind; forgiveness. Of course forgiveness is not easy but once you learn to forgive those who wrong you, you start feeling free and less burdened because you are no longer buried in the well of grudges and unforgiveness.

Like I keep saying, this will not be easy but once you are able to forgive, it gives you freedom, kinda like the horse finally stepping on solid ground again. The decisions you make thereafter are clear and very precise. You find it easy to make decisions about your life that you probably could not have made while you were still holding onto past hurt. You decide whether you will allow the hurt to keep you a bitter person or to transform you into a better person. To paraphrase what someone correctly said, “unforgiveness is like taking poison and hoping the person who wronged you dies”.

Remember, if we face our problems and respond to them positively, and refuse to give in to panic, bitterness, or self-pity, the adversities that come along to bury us usually have within them the potential to benefit and bless us. The key is in shaking them off and stepping up out of the wells in which we find ourselves! Remember, what happens to you isn't nearly as important as how you react to it.

My challenge for all of us this week is this: Don’t hold on to a hurting past. Instead, learn from it and emerge stronger and better than ever before. Forgive those who have wronged you, but do not forget the lessons the experience has taught you.

Give it a try. Shake it off and step up this week.

PS: Article published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 19th January, 2014, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words".

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