From a practical perspective, there are of course good things and bad things. I am sure you would agree it would be good if you got a raise today and bad if you spilled a full cup of coffee on your shirt. Still, I will argue that in reality there is no such thing as good or bad.
I learned this through experience using what I believe is reasonable logic. If you had asked me before I began my freshman year of college at The University of Richmond if I wanted to have a good time or a bad time, obviously, I would have chosen a good one. If you had asked me if I wanted to be mistakenly locked out of registering for classes during the freshman sign-up period (which was already after everyone else in the school), or if I wanted to spend my first semester as the only Jew in a “Muslim Saints & Sinners” class and the only guy in “Women’s Autobiographies”, I would have said of course not. I have much greater interests. If you had asked me if I wanted to have strep throat a few times and a chronic cough for the year and to realize later on that it was probably because my dorm room had some mold in it, I would have had to have been crazy to see that as a good thing right? But it was.
You see, I believe in the butterfly effect, or at least the possibility of it. The way I think about the butterfly effect is that even the smallest changes can have the largest impacts. The term was coined in the 1970s from “the notion that a butterfly fluttering in Rio de Janeiro could change the weather in Chicago.” I reference this phenomenon because it leads me to believe that any small changes in my life, if they had played out differently, could have changed absolutely everything in the path of my life thereafter, and I strongly believe that they would have.
In light of that, if I had not had such a lousy freshman year at Richmond, I never would have decided to leave and start my own company, never would have taken the gap year that more tangibly changed my life. I never would have gone to Vanderbilt and I never would have met many of the people I call my best friends today. I doubt I would have enjoyed a semester in Florence or spent a year and a half working in San Francisco. I might not have had the same appreciation then for New York when I had the opportunity to move back about a year ago. I wouldn’t have met my girlfriend, Lauren, and I wouldn’t have made this blog. In fact, I can confidently say that if I didn’t get locked out of my freshman registration seven years ago, you would not be reading this right now. There is just no way that could be.
The point is, you can say everything is good and bad, or you can say everything is neither good nor bad, but the fact is that the effects of any and every event are far too impactful in totality for you to possibly observe and make an accurate judgement about the goodness or badness of any event. That is why I do not believe there is such a thing as good or bad.
In practicality, I do not live by this belief in my daily life. It is a bit too far from the way things are I think, and some people might take it the wrong way and stop making an effort to do good things, be a good person, and live a good life. I am certainly not advocating for that. Like everyone else, I still hope for things that I think would be good, and to avoid things I think would be bad. There are things that I think are amazing and things that I think are horrific that are happening every day all over the world in an unimaginable number of instances, but the times when I draw on this belief are the times when things seem bad in the moment, when it might help a little bit to know and really believe that seemingly bad things can have incredibly good consequences. With this approach, I get the best of both worlds. When things seem good, I enjoy them as such, but when things seem bad I recall my freshman year at Richmond to remember that the bad things can in the end be good, and that one day I might look back and say I wouldn’t have had them any other way.