I am often reminded of this old Chinese fable about a farmer and his horse.

There are many varying versions of the story, but it goes something like this:

Alan Watts’ telling of the story.

The Chinese farmer’s attitude illustrates a deep understanding of how seeming bad fortune can often be a blessing in disguise. And vice versa.

I believe I first learned this story from Derek Sivers, whose telling I’ll quote in full below, along with his 1998 song based on this classic parable:

My favorite fable (塞翁失马)

A farmer had only one horse. One day, his horse ran away.

His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses.

His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs.

His neighbors said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted.

His neighbors said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

Reprinted from Sivers.org here. Listen to Derek’s song “Still Too Soon to Tell” below:

If you enjoy this timeless parable, and the beautiful song Derek composed to retell the tale, you might find my exclusive interview with him here interesting.