The second arrow

There’s a Buddhist parable that describes how one can get struck by not one, but two arrows when an unfortunate event happens.

The first arrow is the event itself — it’s the project you’ve poured your heart and soul into suddenly getting cancelled, it’s finding out that someone you love has a terminal illness, it’s the sudden recognition of deep regret.

The second arrow is your response — it’s the mental anguish that precipitates from ruminating about just how unfortunate the situation is.

The moral of the story is that it’s only the first arrow that’s unavoidable. The second arrow and all the pain that comes with it, however, is avoidable.

Even if your tendency is to amplify an unfortunate situation, you’re not compelled to react in this way.

It is possible to recognize the second arrow mid-air, ask yourself: “what’s the point? What is the use of responding this way?”, and move out of its path.

As if sparing yourself from a great deal of pain by recognizing and avoiding the second arrow wasn’t enticing enough, you’re also able to then redirect any unused energy towards meaningfully addressing the first one.

Learn to recognize the second arrow.



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William Liao

William Liao


Taiwanese American, daily blogger of ideas about impactful work in service of others, photographer (