A crisis has a way of bringing things into sharp focus, into fresh perspective. This has been a hard week for my family and me, especially for my Dad who had a stroke. He’s in hospital, struggling to recover speech and the use of his arm.
It has been an emotionally disorientating experience. The shock, the concern, the moments of anguish mixed with glimpses of hope. It reminds me of an old Chinese Taoist story cited by Alison Hardingham in Psychology for Trainers.
The story describes a farmer in a poor country village. He was considered very well-to-do because he owned a horse that he used for ploughing, for riding around and for carrying things. One day, his horse ran away.
All his neighbours exclaimed how terrible this was, but the farmer simply said, ‘maybe’. A few days later the horse returned and brought two wild horses with it. The neighbours all rejoiced at his good fortune but the farmer said, ‘maybe’.
The next day the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses. The horse threw him and broke the boy’s leg. The neighbours all offered their sympathy for this misfortune, but the farmer again said, ‘maybe’.
The next week conscription officers came to the village to take young men for the army. They rejected the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. When the neighbours told him how lucky he was. The farmer simply replied,‘maybe’.
The book goes on to explain, using this story as an example of reframing. The meaning that any event has depends upon the frame in which we perceive it. When we change the frame, we change the meaning.
Having two wild horses is a good thing until it is seen in the context of the son’s broken leg. The broken leg seems to be bad in the context of peaceful village life; but in the context of conscription and war it becomes good.
Changing the frame in which a person perceives events changes the meaning. When the meaning changes, the person’s responses and behaviours also change. The more reframing you can do, the more choices you have.
So I don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s an uncertain time but I have seen glimpses of God’s frame. Dad’s courage and optimism in the midst of such a traumatic personal ordeal, Mum’s acting to get him to hospital so fast.
The ambulance crew that arrived so quickly, racing through traffic lights to the hospital team that was waiting. Professional staff with care, resources and expertise. A single room where Dad can relax and sleep.
My whole family alongside Dad, supporting him and each other, even from a distance. My brother bringing Dad’s whole motorcycle club to the hospital, dressed in Santa costumes. The excited look on Dad’s face when they arrived!
The colleagues who released me to travel home early from work, the friends who looked after the girls while I was away, the clear roads all the way on route, the friend who offered me a bed for the night to break up the journey.
The technology that allows us all to stay in touch. The kind people on every continent who offered to pray for Dad when they saw my post on Facebook. Is God doing things hidden yet amazing through all of this? ‘Maybe’.
Nick is a psychological coach, OD consultant and trainer, specialising in critical reflective practice.