Good Luck or Bad Luck? Maybe, It’s Hard To Tell

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Reading children’s books to my kids has become a regular source of new wisdom. I guess that’s not surprising, if the goal is to teach kids about life. Here’s one that came across recently and keeps popping back in my head.

I first read it in the children’s book Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth (Caldecott Honor book). There are many variations of it online, and it may be credited as a Chinese, Buddhist, Taoist, or Zen parable. Here’s a brief version from Daily Zen:

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

I enjoy the sound of Alan Watts’ voice, so I am also embedding this YouTube version:

I still have a hard time applying this parable in real-time, but it does help me after some time passes. This parable is also tricky because you have to remember both when life puts up a roadblock and when you receive an unexpected windfall.

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  1. Looks like a great book, not to self promote but i am a family therapist and started writing coping skills childrens book to teach my kid what to do if you have a bad day. The book out is Hals worst Wednesday check it out on Amazon love more feedback if your looking for new positive books for kids.

  2. I often find a lot of wisdom in the books I read to my children. Dr. Seuss is a personal favorite – Oh the Places You’ll Go, Oh the Thinks You Can Think, Horton Hears a Who, etc. I never get tired of reading them.

  3. It’s always good to remember that in the moment, immediate events can be good or bad but we’d have to wait and see what they shake out to be in the long run.

    Lots of events that were categorically bad at the time turned out to be ways that moved me toward the life I wanted to build and I would not have predicted that at the time! Being unable to land a job in NY, losing my job in the middle of the recession, getting so few interviews during that time that I took the first job offered after a year of hunting. They seemed pretty bleak but in retrospect, each step took me to the right places at the right times.

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