The Chinese Farmer Parable: Maybe It’s Good, Maybe It’s Bad
Here is my version of the Chinese Farmer parable or fable that can help you to pull out of awfulizing or catastrophizing about your life.
A farmer who was feeling down and out because his farm was not doing well went to the local guru to complain about his plight and seek advice. The guru’s response to his story: “Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s bad.”
The farmer found the guru’s surprising “advice” disappointing and confusing.
He tossed and turned that night, unable to sleep for worry about his situation. His head spun imagining his family’s awful future.
When the farmer woke in the morning, he was shocked to see that a wild horse had entered his yard. The horse was an impressive strong stallion that he would be able to harness and use to work the fields.
Ecstatic, the farmer ran to tell the guru about his good fortune.
The guru’s response to his story: “Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s bad.”
“Wow,” the farmer thought. “I didn’t see that coming.”
The farmer invested all the money he had left in seeds. He planted his seeds with the help of the horse.
Spring turned into summer and fall. Just as it was time to bring in the harvest, the farmer woke one morning to find that the horse had run away. The farmer was despondent. He had spent all his money on seeds, nurtured the plants all summer, and now couldn’t see how he could bring in the harvest.
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed, the farmer returned to the guru. After listening to the story, the guru simply said, “Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s bad.”
“This can’t be good!” thought the farmer.
The next day, the stallion returned and brought with him a mare. Now the farmer had two horses to help bring in the crops and would be able to have horses into the future as the pair produced offspring.
The farmer excitedly told the guru this wonderful news. The guru’s response: “Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s bad.”
The next day, the farmer’s son was riding the stallion while he was helping with the harvest. The son was bucked off the horse and sustained injuries that would incapacitate him for months.
Overcome with grief and worry, the farmer returned to the guru. Again, the guru said, “Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s bad.”
“Really, how could this be good?” thought the farmer.
The next week, army recruiters came to town. The country was at war and all able-bodied young men were taken off to fight at the front lines.
The son’s injuries saved him from having to go off to fight.
Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s bad.
Maybe it’s somewhere in between. Maybe it’s some of both.
Rather than think of events as being absolutely good or absolutely bad, consider a continuum of outcomes. On one far end of the continuum is absolutely entirely wonderful and on the other end of the continuum is absolutely entirely awful.
Each event can be placed somewhere on the continuum. The combination of good and bad will determine where on the continuum it belongs.
If you find yourself dwelling on awful possibilities (awfulizing), it may be helpful to think of the guru’s words. “Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad.”
The slogan may help snap you out of awfulizing and help you de-stress.
You don’t know where the twists and turns of life will take you until the future plays out. Sometimes, events that seem awful turn out to contain something wonderful (or at least something somewhat good).
Have you had an experience in your past when you felt despondent about a situation and later realized that some good came out of it? You can use that experience to inspire you through your next challenge. Remember “Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s bad” and smile.
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- Ann Silvers