Who Can Tell? Good or Bad Luck?
Taoist Story, as told by Al Turtle
Once upon a time there was a farmer who looked at his barnyard one morning and saw his horse was missing. His neighbor came by, as he did every morning for his cup of tea , and saw the farmer looking at the empty corral. He said, “You sure have bad luck today!” The farmer gazed off toward the horizon and quietly said, “Who can tell? Bad or Good?”
Which was an interesting thing to say, because next morning, not only had his horse come back on its own, but he trailed behind him three wild horses and a small herd of goats. The farmer looked at his overfull barnyard as the neighbor came by. His friend said, “Woooeeeee. I thought you were unlucky, but now I see you have good luck!” The farmer glanced toward the horizon and quietly said, “Who can tell? Good or Bad luck?”
Well that was interesting, because that afternoon the farmer’s eldest son, his pride and future heir to the farm, tried to ride one of the new horses. The boy was thrown off into a pile of rocks and broke his leg in three places. As friends were carrying the boy away on a litter, the neighbor sadly said, “Ah. Such bad luck!” But the farmer just stopped for a moment, gazed toward the setting sun and mumbled, “Who can tell? Bad or Good?”
Which was a good thing to say, because next morning soldiers came. There was a war going on in a neighboring province and they were taking all the able bodied young men to fight. And let me tell you, all the boys that they took for their war died in that war. They took every boy from the village except…. except the farmer’s eldest son and heir, because his leg was broken in three places. And the neighbor came by and said…. and he said, “Well, uh, who can tell? Good or Bad luck?”
The Original Version (from the Web)
In Taoist perspective even good and evil lose their absolute character. They buttress their reticence with the story about a farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbor commiserated only to be told, "Who knows what's good or bad?" It was true. The next day the horse returned, bringing with it a drove of wild horses. The neighbor came over again, this time to congratulate the farmer. He was met with the same observation: "Who knows what is good or bad?" True this time too; the next day farmer's son tried to mount one of the wild horses and fell off breaking his leg. Back came the neighbor, this time with more commiserations, only to encounter for the third time the same response, "Who knows what is good or bad?" And once again the farmer's point was well taken, for the following day soldiers came by commandeering for the army and because of his injury the son was not drafted.