The story of the Taoist Farmer

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

One day the farmer didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran off. “Oh no! What a disaster!” his neighbours cried. “Such terrible misfortune!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

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

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke 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 war. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

Whenever we interpret a situation as being a ‘problem’ or an ‘opportunity’ it shapes the way we feel, which shapes how we respond.

But the story of the Taoist Farmer shows that we can never know how a situation is going to turn out.

This means there are no intrinsic ‘opportunities’ or ‘problems’ in the world: 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

Doing this will bring us another step closer to becoming antifragile: able to use change to become stronger and more valuable.

Have you experienced any ‘disasters’ or ‘fantastic successes’ recently? How did you respond? What would the Taoist Farmer have said?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Quinn Dombrowski via

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