Is That So

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer…

Wait – I’ll let Alan Watts tell the story, since he’s much smarter, funnier, and better looking than I am (plus he has a cool British accent):


Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer who lost a horse. It ran away. And all the neighbors came around that evening and said, “That’s too bad.” And he said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back and brought seven wild horses with it. All the neighbors came around and said, “Why, that’s great isn’t it.” and he said, “Maybe.”

The next day his son was attempting to tame one of these horses and was riding it. He was thrown and broke his leg. All the neighbors came around in the evening and said, “Well that’s too bad, isn’t it.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the conscription officers came around looking for people for the army. They rejected his son because he had a broken leg. All the neighbors came around that evening and said, “Isn’t that wonderful!” He said, “Maybe.”

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity. It is really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad because you never know what will be the consequences of the misfortune, or you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.


An excellent example of this happening today – “… the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards says nearly a third of lottery winners declare bankruptcy meaning they were worse off than before they became rich.”1

I’m pretty sure family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers came around and said “Isn’t that wonderful!” to those lottery winners. Many of them probably also said or thought “Can I have some?”

Then there are those who, without the failures (and just plain old horribleness) in their lives, may not have become as successful as they did – even if it was only because the direction of their life changed. I’m sure their family, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers also said to them “Well that’s too bad, isn’t it.” Many of them probably also said or thought “Call me when things get better.”

My personal favorite “had a ridiculous amount difficulty in life” story is the life of Abraham Lincoln.

(Well shit… maybe he wasn’t such a failure after all. I wonder where believing in – and then not believing in – the Lincoln glurge will take me?)

It’s important to maintain our equanimity in the face of both failures *and* successes, because we never know where they’ll lead us. Not that we should go through life like zombies or robots, numbly accepting the things that happen to us and around us. I’m sure the Chinese farmer, when his son first broke his leg, didn’t just say “Oh well, c’est la vie.” (and not just because he probably didn’t know French.)

And he was probably thrilled when the draft board said “Hard pass.”

Acknowledge the emotions that come up. Celebrate and cry. Maybe even spend a few days in bed or partying. But try to remember:

“The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity. It is really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad because you never know what will be the consequences of the misfortune, or you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.”

 

  1. “Why So Many Lottery Winners Go Broke” – http://fortune.com/2016/01/15/powerball-lottery-winners/ – retrieved 11/18/2018

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