A business friend and I were having coffee a few years ago. We talked about the Chinese Farmer Parable. Man, I love this story.
It will make you better at business and life.
The punchline is ‘MAYBE’ and it’s about living in the present (you’ll get that fully after reading the post).
It can change your mindset and change your life if you let it.
The story can help you not to get caught up in the mental emotions of pressure and anxiety.
It will calm you and make you realize that ultimately you can’t control all outcomes.
Live in the moment. Live in the maybe.
The story is credited to Alan Watts but is supposedly an ancient Chinese parable.
The story is about a single mother providing for her child. It’s the person who wants to ‘make it’. The student trying to figure out their life.
It’s about us all.
We all fit the persona of the story. But for this example, we’ll use the oldest version around, the parable of the Chinese farmer.
So let me tell you a story about a Chinese farmer…
The Parable of The Chinese Farmer
Once upon a time, there was a Chinese farmer.
One of his horses ran away.
His friends came by to console him.
“We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. It’s very unfortunate for you,” they said.
The farmer replied, “Maybe.”
The following week the horse came back and had eight wild horses with it.
The farmer let them in his gate with a grin.
Later on, everybody came back saying, “Wow, isn’t that lucky. What an awesome turn of events. You now have nine horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”
A few days later, the farmer’s son tried to break one of the horses.
While riding it, the son was thrown from the horse and broke his leg.
The farmers’ friends said, “Oh no! that’s too bad,” to which the farmer responded, “Maybe.”
A few days later, military officers came by to summon soldiers into the army.
They rejected his son because of his broken leg.
Again the friends came by and said, “Isn’t that great!”
“Maybe,” he said.
What Does it All Mean?
Like Alan Watts says (paraphrased): The entire universe is a beautiful process of immense complexity, and it’s impossible to know whether anything that happens is good or bad (I take the belief that the ultimate result is for good). You never know what the consequence of the misfortune will be. But you also don’t know what the implications of a good fortune will be.
This thinking is similar to an ancient piece of wisdom literature known as Ecclesiastes. In it, one of the characters talks about how time marches on, how we’re all going to die, and how the universe includes random chance.
He describes life as ‘hevel’. Hevel is a Hebrew word best translated as ‘mist’ or ‘vapor.’ He is saying that life can be mysterious, and just when you think you have life figured out, it transforms. It’s both beautiful and puzzling.
In this literature, we’re advised to stop worrying about things that we can’t control. The only thing that you have ultimate control over is your attitude towards the present – both good and bad. The literature says that in the future, all will be made well and whole. That living in the present with open hands is important.
So what do I think about the Chinese farmer parable?
It changed my life.
I think the parable of the Chinese farmer means that we need to take it all one step at a time.
Enjoy this moment – that – you – have – right – now.
It’s about living in the present.
That reminds me of another parable that I live by.
This one, a fellow proverb of the Haitians.
Mountains Beyond Mountains.
I’d love to know what you think of that one too…