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Yesterday the horse named Clancy, who lived in the field across the street from our house, broke his leg just after running past us. A strange thing about this event was that he wasn’t doing anything particularly dangerous or strange for a horse to be doing. He was just running and then decided to make a sharp turn and that put much of his whole weight plus the additional g-force of his change of direction on his outside front leg. The stress of the force and the twisting of the foreleg was too much and with a loud bang his bone broke, and he went down. For a horse that is a death sentence. For me, it is a reminder of just how fragile life is, even for a horse living in a protected situation on a flat pasture.

The Sage tip #135, Learn limits from unlucky people and failure, is about learning how to cope with the world by observing our fellow creatures. When I was first writing out that rendition of the Seven Sages of Greece’s idea, it seemed to be related to watching people and learning what to do and what to avoid from their successes and their failures. This tip is aimed at learning from failures, and I learned something from Clancy’s failure. That was a particularly informative failure because he wasn’t doing anything that appeared to be dangerous and still his behavior got him killed.

This afternoon I was raking leaves in my backyard and putting them into the 30-gallon wheeled garbage container. There was more litter than would crush down with a push, so I started pulling the container over to where a ladder was so that I could climb up high enough to step into the container and jump up and down to compact the litter. I have done that several times in the past, but today as I started up the ladder, I realized how easy it would be for that container to tip over with me stuck in it. The fall would only be about three feet, but I probably wouldn’t be able to get my legs under me and would be forced to catch myself with my arms. That wouldn’t work very well and I might get injured. Clancy hadn’t even been elevated when he broke his leg, and here I was going to do something stupid.

I have been feeling sad about Clancy’s accident and death, but this new view is suggesting to me that when thoughts of him pop up, as they will, because we go past his home several times per day, I will now think a positive thought that he may have saved me from a serious fall. In the future, I will be more cautious when I see myself about to do something stupid.

We can learn from observing other people’s failures, even other creatures’ failures.