I think this parable might originally be Taoist. I can’t actually remember where I heard it. Here’s how it goes:
Once there was an old man who lived in a village with only his son, who was known by the other villagers to be particularly wild and restless and insubordinate. All the other villagers felt bad for the old man, and they said to him, “Oh, it’s too bad that your son is such a difficult young man.” The old man simply shrugged and said, “Eh. Maybe it’s a bad thing. Maybe it’s a good thing.”
Because the young man was so wild and restless, he went with his friends without his father’s permission to chase a herd of wild horses. He came back to his father’s farm with a beautiful horse he had captured. All the villagers marveled at the horse and said to the old man, “Oh, you’re so lucky that your son caught such an incredible horse!” The old man simply shrugged and said, “Eh. Maybe it’s a bad thing. Maybe it’s a good thing.”
The young man started trying to saddle break the horse, and in the process he was thrown and suffered a broken leg. All the villagers felt bad for the old man, whose son now couldn’t help around the farm, and they said to them, “We’re so sorry that your son broke his leg.” The old man simply shrugged and said, “Eh. Maybe it’s a bad thing. Maybe it’s a good thing.”
Not long after, a general came to the small village. He was conscripting young men to serve as soldiers in the emperor’s latest pointless war. All the young men of a certain age in the village were taken away, and most of them would never see home again. The old man’s son, however, was not recruited, because of his broken leg. All the villagers thought the old man was the luckiest amongst them, and they said to him, “You are so fortunate that your son did not go off to war like our sons.” The old man simply shrugged and said, “Eh. Maybe it’s a bad thing. Maybe it’s a good thing.”
What’s happening in YOUR life? And is it good or bad?
There are many morals to this short parable, but perhaps the most obvious one is that you can’t always immediately tell in life what’s going to end up being a good thing and what’s going to end up being a bad thing. For myself personally, I have found that my biggest mistakes and greatest failings have often ended up leading to my greatest growth and positive change. Often, all we need to do is change our perspective on a situation to see that what seemed so horrible (or so wonderful) could actually be the opposite.
For example, whenever Duke beats UNC at basketball, I feel overjoyed, but all the UNC fans feel crushed. What’s the difference? It’s the same situation. Whether it is good or bad simply depends upon the angle we are coming from.
Perhaps that’s a stupid example, and you are complaining to me, “Yeah, but some things in life, it doesn’t matter what perspective you take on it, it’s simply horrible.”
Is it really?
I don’t know. Maybe you just need a bigger view and a more open mind, a mind willing to see what good might come out of something that seems so difficult in the moment.
And time. That’s the other factor we need. We often need to “wait out” horrible situations to give them time to transform into something more meaningful. When the old man’s son broke his leg, for example, that seemed meaningless and horrible in the moment — horribly meaningless, meaninglessly horrible — but a different side of the situation was revealed later, when the general came to the village.
Maybe the general just hasn’t shown up at your village yet. Maybe you need to keep waiting. And watching.