It’s Just Good Business #22 – A Matter of Perspective

Here is a traditional Taoist story about a farmer.


One day his only horse broke out of the corral and ran away. Upon hearing the news, the farmer’s neighbors came to his house to see for themselves. They said, “Oh, what bad luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.”


Within a week the horse returned, accompanied by a beautiful wild stallion, which the farmer and his son quickly corralled. Once again, upon hearing the news, the neighbors came to see

for themselves. This time they proclaimed, “Oh, what good luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.”


During his efforts to break the wild stallion, the farmer’s son was thrown against a fence and broke his leg. True to form, the neighbors gathered round to console the farmer with “Oh, what bad luck!” And once again, the farmer replied, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.”


At this time in China, two rival warlords were waging war against each other. The warlord over the Taoist farmer’s village, who was one of the two combatants, visited the village to conscript

young men to fight in the war. When his men came to take the farmer’s son, they found him in pain and unable to walk, and left him behind while they gathered the rest of the young men in the village. Once again, the neighbors visited the farmer to congratulate him on his good fortune. And the farmer replied, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.”


As this story represents, we never fully know the implications of anything, including our most well-intentioned efforts and apparent failures. Invariably and inevitably, we know less than we think we do. And what is good luck to one, may be bad luck to another, and visa versa. And the time frame and context in which we assess good and bad, beneficial and harmful, is relative and ever-changing.

Next time you are certain of something, especially if you are certain that you are right and another person is wrong, consider that it is likely to be a matter of perspective.