When Chickens Aren’t Enough
“Bring the chickens into the house.”
This is the go-to phrase in our household whenever things are difficult.
It comes from a Yiddish folktale about a man who is miserable, living in a cramped house with his wife, mother, and kids. He seeks counsel from the Rabbi who first tells him to bring his chickens, rooster and goose into the house. This leads to mayhem so he goes back to the Rabbi who instructs him to bring his goat into the house. More chaos ensues. He goes back again and the Rabbi tells him to now bring in his cow. Despite his misgivings, the man does so, and now the little house is unbearable.
In desperation, the man returns to the Rabbi who tells him to take all of the animals out of the house and Lo! and Behold! the house seems calm and spacious. Lesson learned.
This week as we dealt with the lack of power, heat, and internet, we kept saying to each other, “Bring the chickens into the house.” But ya know what? It wasn’t enough. While I knew things could be worse, pointing it out didn’t actually make me feel better.
Gratitude is a powerful practice and can be an antidote to worry, stress and sadness. I employ it with regularity. The reminder to bring the chickens into the house can serve as a gentle nudge.
But it can also be a bludgeon: You’re without heat, internet and power? How about all of the people who are houseless, they deal with this every day, you should be grateful. If you think this is bad, remember IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE.
There needs to be a balance. Denying the truth of what we are feeling is not the same as a gratitude practice, and acknowledging that things could be worse is not a substitute for practicing compassion.
Honoring your own emotions—I feel sad and overwhelmed—does not negate that there are many others who are suffering and struggling.
Being grateful—I have a roof over my head, warm blankets, and food—does not mean you are not also deserving of compassion for being cold and isolated.
So yes, bring the chickens into the house, but be compassionate when you’re finding feathers in your soup.
It can be both…but how?
When you find you’re denying your emotions or experience and defaulting to “it could be worse…” try and make room for both. Here’s how.
Start with a statement of what you are dealing with. Then start the second sentence with “While it could be worse…” Complete the sentence by honoring your emotions or experience.
Let’s say you are dealing with a chronic injury. Here’s the framing:
“I am in pain from my achilles injury. While it could be worse, I am frustrated that it prevents me from taking long, challenging hikes.”
Perhaps you miss your far away friends. That could read:
“I am sad that I haven’t gotten to see my non-local friends in almost two years. While it could be worse, it is a loss to not have the chance to connect with them in person.”
(other) Smart People
Want more of Margot Zemach’s It Could Always Be Worse? You can hear me read the whole story and see all of the delightful illustrations here on YouTube. Safe to share with any littles in your life, too!
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