March 5, 2024

"These Things Happen"

One of our favorite television shows is the original 1978 series of All Creatures Great and Small. A minor theme of the story that we especially appreciate, is the worldview and attitudes of the Yorkshire Dales people themselves; the smallhold farmers who were the clients of veterinarians James Herriot and Siegfried Farnon. Their individual personalities were as varied as anywhere else, of course, but it was the way they faced life and especially hardship that is notable. Typically hospitable and generous, when difficult circumstances came, they would take it in stride. "These things happen," they would say. And they would press on.

This has caused me to pay attention to my own reactions when something bad happens, because typical human reactions stand in a huge contrast when things go wrong: anger, frustration, complaining, and blaming are the norm. As "normal" as these may seem, I find it hard to admire someone who explodes when something unfortunate happens. I don't want to be that kind of person.

Of unfortunate circumstances, I would say there are two types. Some are the direct result of our actions, i.e. cause and effect at work. As Dr. Phil says, "When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences." I see being able to admit mistakes and errors in judgement as a sign of maturity, something that is increasingly rare these days. 

Sometimes, there is no logical cause for what happens. Once upon a time, these were referred to as "acts of God," and pretty much covered most natural disasters. Another term to describe this is "bad luck." I have to add that dealing with livestock the way Dan and I do, I know from experience that bad things can happen even when we're doing our best. In our early days of homesteading, the tendency was to blame and berate ourselves, trying to figure out what we did wrong. We became discouraged. All of this, of course, is an emotional reaction, which never helps solve things.

I think there's been an unfortunate trend over the years which focuses on the importance of our feelings. We're told "follow your heart." I don't know about you, but I have found feelings to be exceedingly fickle. And very easy to manipulate. All of which means they are not a reliable indicator of reality. Feelings are an important part of our human experience, but I think they serve us better if they are under the reign of self-control. 

Hopefully, I'm never too old to learn. And that includes learning to accept circumstances and outcomes that I wish weren't, learning to accept things that are beyond my control, even learning useful lessons from the situation. Some people might consider this fatalistic and see "giving up" as defeat, but constantly fighting against the universe gets wearisome. Nobody like to be defeated, but I'm coming to understand that defeat is often only an emotional perception. Set that aside, and grace comes with acceptance. There's more strength in coming to terms with reality than in constantly trying to fight it. 

I suppose what I'm trying to realize here, is that we humans always have a choice. It may not be the ability to determine the outcomes, but I always have a choice in how I react. James Herriot portrayed the farming folk of Yorkshire as amazingly resilient because they somehow understood these things. It's a quality I admire and want to make my own. 


daisy g said...

We've enjoyed the updated series for a couple of years now. We are missing it now that the season is over. I agree, they just take things in stride. I think some of that might be garnered from their dealings with animals. Perhaps it is easier to accept with animals, that once you've done all you can, the rest is up to them. Every creature has a purpose in this life.
I hope that you find peace your constant companion.

Carla said...

Wonderfully well said!

Leigh said...

Daisy, thank you! I think modern society has pretty much lost its connection with the natural world, so that we don't understand how little control we actually have. Learning to live on the land has helped us tremendously. Like you say, dealing with animals. And things like dealing with the weather. Dealing with growing food. There are so many variables and most of them are beyond our control. I think it's much easier to accept that and press on to do the best we can.

Carla, thanks!

Mama Pea said...

We can't always control the circumstances, but we can control our reactions. And we still have that choice. As usual, so well written, Leigh.

Ed said...

I read the book when I was a young boy and really enjoyed the stories. I haven't seen the television show though.

I have found that as I have gotten older, I roll with the punches easier when life doesn't go my way. I guess it is because I have the wisdom of experience to know that I will get past whatever hurdle eventually and get back to better times. I focus on setbacks being temporary and thus force myself to get past them and move on without dwelling on them.

Fortunately, my parents brought me up to proceed with my mind and not my heart. It has served me well over the years. I can't imagine where I would have ended up had I followed my heart but I'm willing to bet a lot, that I wouldn't have ended up as well as I am now.

Boud said...

This is great, a tribute to -- my people! I'm from that part of the world, grew up with that spirit of getting on with it. It's definitely a way to live.

That said, it also attracts its share of hangers-on, who want "some of that", direct quotation, by association! And don't want to be reminded to stand on their own feet, not mine!

You and all farmers and smallholders already know all this, preaching to the choir here.

Goatldi said...

Wise old someone said "if I can't change something I can change the way I look at it."
Interesting that. And also interesting is the emotional reactions are often dictated by our personal state of being. More than once I have found myself knee jerking to something or someone had to say or did and realized within 24 I find myself with a cold, flu or some malady that was unknown to me was part of the equation in how I viewed the perceived offense.
There is also a heaping serving of "over thinking" going around lately with an increasing amount of "experts" popping up on the social media sites of late. Who knew we were damaging that dog we loved by feeding them "prepacked kibble"? Funny that a sweet old pup lived until 18 years and went to critter heaven in her sleep.
Nice topic Leigh with some good points. In my world view perhaps we would all be better off by not being so concerned over the person next door and what they are up to or doing . If it doesn't include us personally perhaps we should go back to pulling weeds and get that Spring garden ready for planting. Snowmageddon be damned!

Leigh said...

Mama Pea, I believe we will always have that choice!

Ed, that's a good point about viewpoint changing as we grow older. Of course, to youth, everything is magnified. Emotions are like a wild roller coaster ride. It's just part of growing up. I think hormonal and neuronal maturing plus life experiences help balance that a lot.

Boud, you come from good stock! I suspect it's related to a good work ethic too.

Goatldi, I don't think the modern lifestyle lends itself well to acceptance of circumstances. So many people are dissatisfied with their lives and seeking happiness elsewhere. I can't say that I blame them, and am glad we chose a different path. I'd much rather only having weeds to worry about that being chewed out by customers or my boss!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

"Defeat" is ultimately a matter of the choice. I can constantly "lose" at something, but I am only defeated when I give up on it. In some case, I can indeed lose at something and still not be defeated, at least in my own person.

It is interesting that you posted this today, as I was talking with a former coworker (also recently laid off). As we were talking through job searches and plans, part of my questions revolved around what did she really want to do - not that what we really want to do is allows a good guide to the sort of thing that we should do (e.g., quitting your job to only study sword would, for the most part, be a rather poor career choice), but not acknowledging that and adding that into one's calculations for life can mean that one will probably at some level always be dis-satisfied.

We cannot always do the things we want to do, but sometimes we can do aspects or elements of them until the situation changes - maybe we cannot grow a full garden, but we can grow herbs in a window or a deck or find a way to practice caring for animals at an animal rescue until we have a place where we can have them ourselves.

Another thought on this is that one's view depends on one's outlook overall - if one believes that the universe is itself random and uncaring, it really just is "bad luck". As a Christian, I believe that everything happens - even the "bad luck" stuff - because ultimately, God has allowed it to occur. Sometimes it benefits me, sometimes it does not - but it will always ultimately result in good, even if I cannot see it from here.

Sometimes we cannot see how "bad luck" is actually good luck if we do not have perspective or time, such as the story of the farmer whose ox was injured and so could not return to the city on the day he was supposed to. The city, as it turned out, was Hiroshima in August of 1945.

We cannot fully judge the "goodness" or "badness" of events until the play - our lives - are completed and the full tapestry can be seen. Until then, events still remain as loose threads to be woven in.

Leigh said...

Excellent points, TB. I think the one that really ties it all together is worldview. I agree with your worldview, and now you've got me thinking about the perception of bad events. I think it would be especially hard if one believed that all of life is just a series of random events. Some would say it's fate, which implies that the event was preordained or preplanned, which makes us something like victims without a choice. (Just thinking out loud here.) The difference between that and a true biblical worldview, is that the biblical worldview sees purpose in all events. That purpose being our greater good (another term that is interpreted many ways!).

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, one thing - at least in the historical literature, possible in reality - that the belief in "fate" or the Old English "Wyrd" gave one was the idea that while one's outcome might predetermined, there was also the element that what would happen, would happen. Thus if one was fated to die, one would die that day - but if one was not fated to die, one could not be stopped. That could give a certain fearlessness to the individual.

In a way, that fearlessness should translate to the life of a Christian (in theory; I am terrible at it): if God is truly in control, then I need only do my best. Outcomes are outside of my control; I can only control my own inputs.

Annie in Ocala said...

As I have gotten older I have learned that growing up in the matter of fact ways of animal husbandry and ranching-homesteading have been my rock. A solid base, as I have navigated thru some truly tough times in life. And as happens, some of those hard times came back to haunt me in my older !ife. But dealing with major emergencys with large animals and having learned how to process things in the moment has really helped me more than I could have ever imagined back in the day.... For that, I am grateful..

Leigh said...

TB, that's an interesting observation, and perhaps the concept in the Yorkshire Dales has it's roots in the same.

When I was originally pondering these thoughts in the pre-writing phase, I recalled you've written some blog posts about stoicism. I'm not confident that I have a handle on that, but somehow the idea seemed to rise up in my thinking. Would this be an example?

Annie, I do think age is a factor, especially combined with lifestyle and experience in the natural world. Maybe it helps us keep things in perspective.

Seeking Serenity said...

I am learning about Stoicism and how to be a stoic.
Watching 'the crown' I admired how the queen kept her quiet calm as the irritating men talked down on her... then she would calmly show her wisdom. I want to be like that, I want to practice keeping my mouth closed & not interrupting.

Leigh said...

S.S., it shows wonderful self-discipline, doesn't it? I can't think of a more valuable skill to learn.

Goatldi said...

I have a couple who have been my best couple friend since 1986. They sold me my first Nubian. The husband was a wise fellow and cowboy. It was fun for me to watch as he was in conversation with others. If someone in the circle (and there was always one) decided to say something really stupid my friend would stand a bit taller, cross his arms on his chest and smile. Of course the speaker was sure he was agreeing with their point. But I had watched him do this many times and I knew what was going on behind that smile.

Leigh said...

Goatldi, that's a great technique! In fact, silence is often the wisest response one can offer. Better than getting worked up in an argument!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh - I will start by saying I am not truly a Stoic: I have read (and own) most of the existing literature on the matter from the Classical World.

The Stoic would say that in fact we cannot control events. In reality, the Stoic would note that there is virtually nothing that we can control, except our response to the things that occur to us. If a good thing happens or a bad thing happens, the response should be the same: accept it.

Another thing Stoics would contend is that it most important to endeavor to be the best self - man or woman - that we can be, and be true to ourselves above all else. To that end, there are some harrowing stories of Stoics who positions essentially ensured their torture and/or execution. Their comments prior to the events generally evidence no fear of the outcome (they often knew what it was) but neither is there a change in their opinion because of it. Being true to themselves mattered more.

Leigh said...

TB, I have to say that I think I agree quite a bit with the Stoics, at least the part about our responses and being our best self. I suppose I differ in that I believe we can control (or influence) events or circumstances somewhat. It's just that we need to accept the consequences of our actions, assuming we can identify the cause and effect.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, that is an interesting point. I am not sure what "the Stoics" believed as a whole (with a 500 or so year history and not a lot preserved from all of them, I suspect it is sometimes hard to know what they all believed). Certainly, many of the Stoics of the Roman Republic and Empire were involved in politics and so it could be argued they believed they could control or influence events - and for the most part, they accepted the consequences of them. Where I do not have quite a full understanding yet is if they would imply the cause and effect to those outcomes, or just to their internal reactions.

This has given me a wonderful excuse (as if I needed one) to revisit them.

Leigh said...

I look forward to any new insights you glean!

Fundy Blue said...

What a wonderful post, Leigh! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. So much in life is out of our control, and once we accept this, we can deal with the unexpected better. I find it exhausting to try to fight the universe all the time. I'm working on myself and what I can do to be a better person. I often say to myself, "Somewhere in the multiverse Louise is getting it right!" Now, I don't know there is a multiverse for sure, but joking about it makes it easier. Sometimes I say to myself, "You have two choices, lie down and die, or get up and start walking." So I get up and start dealing with whatever. And I always remind myself that so many people in the world are truly suffering, that as an American I've got it really good. Life does happen. I happen to believe that life wouldn't have much meaning if everything was easy. It's going through life and meeting its challenges that allows us to appreciate all that is good in our lives. All the best to you!

Leigh said...

Louise, you are so right about how exhausting it is to fight things we can't change! It's not an easy lesson to learn though.