Turning a Bad Situation Around Into a Good One

All of us experience hardships and difficult situations at some point. It is an unavoidable part of life. How we react to these setbacks is what dictates exactly how much and how long we suffer. Our chosen response (we do have a choice) also affects whether we overcome a bad situation or succumb to it. Because we have options, it actually is possible to turn a bad situation around and turn it into a good one. Let me illustrate by relating a true story about my neighbour’s 17 year old son.

I have a wooden fence enclosing my back yard and, because of the severe weather we experience in Florida, the wooden side gate came off its hinges. My neighbour’s 17 year old son (let’s call him James) noticed that the gate needed repairing and approached me offering to repair it for me. I agreed and he subsequently bought new hinges and fixed the gate for me.

When I offered to compensate the young man for his time and effort, he declined and told me that he had just learned that his girlfriend had cheated on him. He explained to me that he wanted to do a kind deed because he believed that it would be therapeutic and help him deal with his anger and hurt. I was quite surprised to hear this and also very touched and impressed.

While I was speaking with James, I could sense the pain and hurt that he was experiencing. He told me how upset and betrayed he felt upon hearing about his girlfriend’s infidelity. However, I could also detect the sense of satisfaction and peace he derived from his unconditional act of kindness. He told me that it made him feel better and I expressed my gratitude to him.

James, despite being a teenager, displayed tremendous wisdom and maturity when he offered to fix my gate for free. He decided to turn a negative situation into a positive one. That was the deliberate choice he made. While it did not change the situation with his girlfriend, he recognized that he had the option of turning a bad situation into a good one. Rather than react angrily as so many others would have done, he opted to do good instead. He recognized that focusing on something positive would change his mindset. James realized that his kind deed would be cathartic and make him feel better about himself. He also touched my heart and reminded me that all of us have choices when it comes to reacting to a negative situation.

I was so moved by James’ wisdom and kindness that I related the story to my friends on Facebook. The response I received from my friends was swift and exuberant. Many of them thanked me for posting James’ story. Many more expressed how they learned a valuable lesson about turning a negative situation into a good one. A few of my friends even related how they were currently experiencing bad situations and, because of James, decided to change their reactions from negative ones into positive ones. All because of James!

Think about all the negative situations you have faced in your life. How did you choose to react to them? I have had my share of bad predicaments and have not always chosen to react positively. Looking back, I recognize that I could have handled the situation differently. In fact, I am a lot more conscious of my choices now than ever before and I try to turn negative experiences into positive ones. I am aware that I will inevitably face trying situations in my life but I have valid choices when it comes to deciding how I react. James only solidified my resolve to respond positively rather than dwell on the negative.

It has been said that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. The truth is that all of us have choices. We can dwell and focus on a bad situation, or we can transform it into something positive and uplifting. In other words, we may not be able to avoid pain, but we can eliminate the suffering associated with it. This profound wisdom can free us from unnecessary self-inflicted torment.

Deepak Chopra once related a story about his month-long experience in a buddhist monastery in Thailand. Deepak was not used to walking barefoot as his Buddhist monk teachers did. Consequently, his feet hurt when he was walking, especially when he stepped on small pebbles on the ground. He told this to his mentor who smiled knowingly and responded, “focus on the foot that is in the air rather than on the foot that is touching the ground”. Deepak admits to learning a valuable lesson that day.

All of us have the choice to focus on the foot that is on the ground that hurts or the one in the air which does not. Some people only focus on the pain, causing them to suffer. Some go even further and choose not to walk at all. In other words, they give up. James chose to focus on the positive by doing a kind deed. It is important to realize that James still felt angry and hurt, which is normal. However, he made a conscious choice to focus on what he could control rather than on what he could not. That is wisdom.

So how do we apply this wisdom in our lives? Let’s look at a few examples:

  • You lose your job: you can get angry, revengeful, and discouraged, or you can use the opportunity to find a better job, go back to school to develop valuable skills, or start your own business
  • You find out that your partner has cheated: you can exact revenge, focus on your anger, and choose to humiliate your partner, or you can forgive, find a more compatible partner, or learn to enjoy being single and less co-dependent
  • You experience a serious illness: you can lose hope, focus on the regret for not taking better care of your health, despair and further neglect your health, or you can decide to change your diet, stop smoking, and exercise
  • You experience monetary problems: you can get resentful of others who have more money, you can incur more credit card debt, and believe that life is not fair, or you can volunteer your time to help those that are less fortunate and in worse situations, you can get a second job and work overtime, you can start to learn to manage your finances better, you can start a business on the side

No matter how bad a situation is, we can always turn it into a good one. We can choose what we want to focus on and that is powerful and enabling. The world is full of inspiring examples of people who turned negative situations into good ones. They never gave up and viewed their bad predicaments as temporary setbacks. They realized the power of choice, just as James did.

I wrote James a letter expressing how grateful I was that he repaired my gate. I also told him that I was very impressed with his maturity and wisdom, both hallmarks of a good leader. Folded in the letter was a little bit of money for James (I do not know too many 17 year olds who do not need money!). It was a bargain considering what James reminded me of that day: it is always possible to turn a negative situation into a positive one.


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