Who Knows What’s Good or Bad? A Blessing in Disguise

Who Knows What’s Good or Bad? A Blessing in Disguise

Sometimes its difficult to know what’s good or bad. Being wise is a good quality, most of us don’t think of ourselves in those terms, we prefer giving those attributes to some ancient philosophers, sages, or monks, but not us surely, that would be too pretentious borderline arrogant. However, each of us harbor bits and pieces of wisdom that lay deep inside of us; but if we work on this a little, we can bring those morsels of wisdom to the surface.

There are two ways to learn valuable life lessons that will teach us to become a little bit smarter and wiser. The first method is through trial, errors and personal experience and the second method is through story telling.  The downside of the first method is that it will no doubt brings you a fair amount of pain and suffering, which is something that we all want to avoid as much as possible. Learning valuable life lessons through someone else’s struggle and ordeal is a much less painful way to go about it whilst still bringing the same benefits. And that is where story telling comes in the frame. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves and about others.

I am going to tell you one of those stories. Its author is unknown, but it originates from the Taoist tradition; and although this story is thought to be more than 2000 years old, it really speaks to our human condition and it has a great message to it. It is the story of a farmer and his horse.

Who knows what’s good or bad?

A long time ago, there was a kind old man who lived on the plains outside the Great Wall of China. The gentle old man had only two passions in his life: collecting rare breeds of horses and his son, whom he loved more than anything else.  The old man and his son would ride their horses every day. They would travel great distances to trade horses, meet new people, and enjoy the good fortune that life had bestowed upon them.

One morning, a servant left the stable door open and one of the old’s man’s favorite stallions escaped. When the neighbors heard the news of the stallion’s escape, they came to comfort the old man. They told him that they were sorry he had such bad luck.

But strangely enough, the gentle old man was not upset. He explained to his neighbors that losing the horse wasn’t necessarily bad luck. There was no way to predict that the horse would escape, it just happened, and now there was nothing that could be done about it.

Who knows what’s good or bad?” said the old man refusing their sympathy. And indeed, a few days later his horse returned, bringing with him a rare and valuable white mare. When the neighbors heard of the old man’s good luck, they quickly came to congratulate him. But again, the old man was not excited.

Rejecting their congratulations, the old man said: “Who knows what’s good or bad?” and as it happened a few days later the old’s man’s son was attempting to tame the white horse and ride it, he was thrown from it and broke his leg. Again, the neighbors came to the old man’s house to give their sympathy for the bad luck that had befallen his son. One of the neighbors suggested that the old man sell the mare before any more bad luck could happen, and others said that he should take his revenge and kill the mare. However, the old man did neither. He explained to the neighbors that he should not feel sorry for his son, nor anger towards the mare. It was purely an accident that could not be predicted, and there was nothing that he or they could do to change it.  

“Who knows what’s good or bad?” said the old man. A few weeks later, the army came to conscript all the able-bodied men to fight a war against the neighboring province, but the old man’s son was spared because of his broken leg.

Who knows what’s good or bad?

Moral of the story

We all have a tendency to label experiences good or bad. We see the world in terms of black or white, right or wrong, but in reality, there is a lot of shades of grey in between. What this story is telling us is that we shouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusion and make judgment on a person or a situation.

Who knows what’s good or bad?

There is a symbol that the Taoists use to describe this concept of who knows what’s good or bad, it is the symbol of Yin and Yang. The Yin is the black swirl, and the yang is the white one, and each side as a dot of the opposite color inside. Everything contains the seeds of its opposite. Darth Vadar has the seed of goodness and Luke has the potential to follow his father to the dark side. Water flowing calmy in a river is Yin but when it turns into rapids and flow over the waterfall, it is very much Yang.

Yin and Yang is a concept of dualism, describing seemingly opposite or contrary forces that may actually be complimentary, interconnected and interdependent; and that surely is a good thing. Isn’t it? But some people may think of this interconnectedness as a bad thing, preferring to live in a world where duality, oppositions and conflicts are their preferred route because it justifies their existence.

Who knows what’s good or bad?

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