There are no opportunities or threats: the parable of the Taoist Farmer

There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you.” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran away. “Oh no! That is terrible news!” his neighbours cried. “Such bad luck!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbours told him. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbours cried. “Such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the army. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

When we interpret a situation as an ‘opportunity’ or a ‘problem’ it shapes the way that we respond.

But the Taoist Farmer shows that we can never truly know how a situation is going to turn out. There are no intrinsic ‘opportunities’ or ‘threats’ — there is only what happens and how we choose to respond.

In which case, doesn’t it make sense to look for the opportunities in every situation?