Good or Bad?

The traditional Chinese symbol of yin and yang is a graphical description of the Taoist (pronounced Dowist) notion of the relativity of all values. It's a different way to view polarities than the traditional western dualistic perspective of oppositions that we get from our puritan ancestors. We like opposites: naughty/nice, light/dark, liberal/conservative, happy/sad, male/female, native/immigrant, you get the picture/you never will.

To the Taoist, both extremes are resolved in the constantly turning circle. The faster and longer the circle turns, the more reality blurs and blends, becoming neither black nor white at all, because all things are one at the center.

Even good and evil lose their absolute character as illustrated by an ancient Taoist story. Huston Smith, in his 1958 classic book The Religions of Man retells this story about the farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbor commiserated, only to be told, "Who knows what is good or bad?" The next day the horse returned bringing back a herd of wild horses it had befriended. The neighbor returned to congratulate the farmer but was met with the same observation: "Who knows what is good or bad?" The next day the farmer's son fell while trying to mount one of the wild horses and broke his leg. Of course the nosy neighbor returned with commiserations only to be told for the 3rd time, "Who knows what is good or bad?" Once again the farmer's point was proven the following day when a warlord came to conscript an army for battle. Because of the son's broken leg, he was not drafted.

My experience with the federal criminal justice system and certainly my time at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp has been like the farmer's. I realize there's a good chance my being here brought happiness to some, but did it really? And what was meant to bring punishment and retribution, did it? It's a situation that is sadly repeated a few million times each day at prisons around the country.

No thanks to the Bureau of Prisons, I'm convinced I will walk out of here some day a different person. When that happens, any improvement will be entirely because of unforeseen relationships, acts of undeserved kindness and events unpredicted where nothing was required of me but an openness to the experience. I know I'll have better friends and be a better friend because of prison. Is that good or bad?

I'm convinced the Taoist farmer has a point. Who knows what is good or bad? Ultimately the answer to that question is above my pay grade, which is currently $0.29 per hour.