Good luck, bad luck, who knows?

I read this parable a long time ago in a book edited by Mark Tully.  The name of the book escapes me but I remember the parable so well.  In that book, it was attributed to a Chinese man but on the Internet, I have seen it attributed to Jewish, African, Indian and other cultures- perhaps it is universal.  It goes like this-

There once lived a farmer who owned a horse.  He had a son. One day, the farmer’s horse ran away. The neighbours came to console him on his bad luck. But the farmer said, “Good luck, bad luck- who knows?”

After a few days, the farmer’s horse came back with other wild horses. Now, the neighbours were slightly jealous and said, “You are so lucky- this is such a good thing!” But the farmer said again,”Good luck, bad luck- who knows?”

The next day, the farmer’s son fell off while trying to tame one of the new horses and broke his leg. The neighbours came over to commiserate, “Your only son has broken his leg.  Now you don’t have anyone to help you- what bad luck!”  The farmer said again,”Good luck, bad luck- who knows?”

Soon came the news that a war had broken out and all young men needed to be conscripted into the army. However due to his broken leg, the farmer’s son could not be drafted.  His neighbours remarked enviously, “How lucky! Your son won’t get killed or maimed in battle.”

As usual, the farmer replied, “Good luck, bad luck- who knows?”

Who knows what happened to the farmer or his son after that.  But what is clear is that the farmer had great wisdom and did not get carried away by immediate things.  This parable shows that life, luck and things happen to everyone and everything has its positive and negative.  Sometimes our short sightedness does not allow us to judge the long term effects.

John F Kennedy said in 1959 that the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ has two characters- one for danger and one for opportunity.


Although some experts believe that the second character means ‘crucial point’, I like that even better- the idea that danger brings one to a ‘crucial point’ in life- one where choices are very important if you want to keep following your heart. That crucial point is when you view everything as a positive.

And sometimes we can turn anything that happens to us into a good thing over time!


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