May You Live in Interesting Times: The Three Chinese Curses

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The Chinese curses are “blessings” which are interesting because they are named oxymoronically (curses/hexes) and provide a unique perspective on life.

There are three of them, in increasing order of severity, and although they’re called Chinese curses, there’s no evidence of their origin being Chinese. They’re worth studying, nonetheless.

May you live in interesting times.

The first Chinese curse (and the most well-known one) is “May you live in interesting times”.

The Blessing Part: Well, who wants to live in boring times? Every young man and woman has a deep-seated desire for action, fun, and adventure. You want to be in the midst of things as they unfold, bring about change, and live an exciting life.

Technology is progressing at a rate never before in the past 2000 years. The agricultural age, industrial age, computers, the internet, and once again, we’re at the cusp of a revolution with cryptocurrencies.

Change is in the air and this is easily one of the most exciting times to be alive.

The Curse Part: What do you mean by interesting times? A time of change and often turmoil. Throughout the history of mankind, this has meant wars, famines, epidemic diseases, tsunamis, and other calamities.

If you think about it, most people want to live in stable, uninteresting environments. You do not want to live in earthquake and tsunami prone areas.

Nature does not necessarily define “interesting” as fun and prosperous. It can also be painful, deadly, and disastrous. Like a volcano erupting after being dormant for a long time.

You do not want to be around the interesting times of the Second World War or the Black Plague.

History will see COVID-19 as one of the most interesting events of this time (a global pandemic and how the modern communication technology played a role in its management) but this is not a fun time to be alive for most of humanity.

May you be recognized by powerful people.

The second Chinese curse is “May you be recognized by powerful people”, although in some places it appears as “May you attract the attention of the government”.

The Blessing Part: Firstly, humans have a biological need for recognition and to feel powerful and important. Secondly, if you are recognized by powerful people, it makes it much easier for you to network and do business with them. You are a somebody, not a nobody.

If no one knows who you are, you are forced to “prove your worth” to get taken seriously (and in most cases, even to get a meeting or a direct call with important people). If your reputation speaks for you, half the work is already done.

Being recognized by powerful people also opens you up to a world of business and political opportunities. You will have an easier time finding well connected partners, and even be able to lobby the government for your own causes.

The Curse Part: You have a pretty big target on your back, and your lack of relative anonymity makes you vulnerable to public opinion. Egos get in the way, it becomes harder to get away with things, and very easy to become the victim of your own fame.

Powerful people are often hostile to anyone who may challenge their position and will often try to bring them down to secure their own power.

They will try to turn you into their puppet, and if you do not cooperate, they may try to take you out. Case in point, have a look at Jack Ma and the Chinese Government.

Remember that just because powerful people recognize you, it does not mean that they are your friends or that they want what’s the best for you.

May you get what you wish for.

The third Chinese curse is “May you get what you wish for”, and in some places it appears as “May you find what you are looking for”.

I find this to be the most insightful of the three.

The Blessing Part: It goes without saying, getting what you wish for is a blessing by definition.

The Curse Part: This is the more interesting perspective. Are you sure you want what you’re wishing for? Are you sure?

Because you do not know what’s best for you, and you do not know what your future holds.

Let’s say that you wish for your current business to do well, and it does. Maybe, had it failed, you were destined to start another business that would have done much better – on a completely different magnitude from your current business.

But now that your current one is doing well enough, you will never know what you missed out on.

You want to be incredibly intelligent? But are you also prepared for the loneliness and challenges that come with having a high IQ?

If you want rockstar level fame, are you prepared to deal with hiding your face every time you go out for the rest of your life for your own safety and to avoid attracting a crowd?

If you want to go to space, are you prepared for the muscle and skeletal atrophy and the health damage that comes with it? (I am)

In your anger, after a fight you may want your friend or a parent to die, but do you really want that after your anger has subsided?

Because of your attachment, you may be really sure that you want to marry a particular girl/boy – but would you want them after the emotions have faded?

We’re not talking about the evil genie/monkey’s paw style malicious gifts (where if you’d asked for a lot of money, it would be by the genie directing some rich guy’s car to crash into you and cripple you and the court awarding you the money) – we’re talking about genuinely finding what you want.

Take a man that wants a nymphomaniac wife. After a while, the non-stop sex is going to get boring and tiresome, but she’s going to keep wanting it. His wish will go from a blessing to a curse. It’s likely that the man hasn’t fully considered his wish because he’s blinded by his lust.

The point is that humans want a lot of things out of emotions, lust, and a need to feel important, but they have not fully considered whether those things are good or bad for them over the long run.

You have to stop and think about whether the things you seek in life – are they really good for you? Would you be happy if you found what you seek in its truest form?

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