This story is often attributed to Chinese leader, Chou En Lai, and has been rewritten in multiple forms by authors unknown.
As the story goes, there was once a farmer and his only son in the days just before the Civil War. Having only one horse, the farmer and son worked long hard days, sun up to sun down, just to get by, with nothing left to spare.
One day as the father and son ploughed the fields, their horse got spooked and ran off. The son was devastated. “What bad luck, now what will we do?”
The father replied; “Good luck, bad luck, too soon to tell.”
The father and son continued to work the farm. Then one day their horse comes running back over the hill with six other horses. The son exclaimed, “What great luck, now we have all the horses we’ll ever need!”
To which the farmer replied; “Good luck, bad luck, too soon to tell.”
The next day as the farmer and son were working with the horses, one particularly difficult horse threw the son off his back and broke his leg. The son cried: “Oh father, I am so sorry, now you have to work the farm all by yourself. What bad luck!”
Once again the father replied: “Good luck, bad luck, too soon to tell.”
Several days later, the Civil War broke out and all the able-bodied young men were sent off to war. The farmer’s son, having a broken leg, was forced to stay at home.
After the leg had healed, the father had the only farm around with a son to help and seven horses to boot. They worked the farm and prospered.
So what does all this mean?
Good luck, bad luck. It’s too soon to tell. Perhaps.
Good luck, bad luck. It’s all in how you look at it. Getting closer.
Good luck, bad luck. Depends on which one you choose and what you make of it.
Bingo. Absolutely. Now you got it!
At each stage of “bad luck” the farmer could have given up, which could have prevented the farmer and son from taking advantage of the “good luck” that came their way.
In this story, there at least three principles of success that allowed the farmer and son to prosper. Let’s take a look:
Responding vs. reacting
At each turn of events, the son reacted. Reacting usually involves not thinking things through, operating with out enough information to make a good decision. The farmer, on the other hand responded to each event using his brain and the power of perspective. This allowed him to be “response – able, able to respond” to the events, both good and bad, that came his way.
The son’s attitude was, “Things happen to us, and there is nothing we can do about it.” The farmer’s attitude was, “Things do happen, and then we happen to them. What we do with what happens is the difference that makes the difference.”
We all have ‘filters’ in our thinking that determine how we see the world.
For the son, he filtered events into two categories, “this is either good for us or bad for us.” He had what I call “problem filters”, seeing only the bad in events, and how it effected him.
The father, on the other hand, had different filters. He had what I call ‘solution filters’. Whatever the events, he knew that a solution could be found in both “good luck and bad luck.”
It’s like the character Qui-Gon Jinn, played by Liam Neeson, says in the 1999 Star Wars movie The Phantom Menace: When one solution does not work, “another solution will present itself.” Now that’s a solution filter!
While they may not be runaway horses, broken legs and Civil Wars, we all have events in our lives that can either make us or break us. When we bring the tools of responding, attitude, and solution filters to these events, we have a much better chance of making them work for us, and prospering as a result.