One day the farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbor hears of his bad news and comes over to commiserate. “I hear that you lost your horse. That is bad news and bad luck.”
“Well, who knows?” said the farmer, “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”
Well, the next day the farmer’s horse returns to his stable, but it has brought along a drove of wild horses it has befriended and who make themselves at home.
The neighbor across the way can’t believe what he hears about his friend. He decides to come over and congratulate him.
“This is such good news,” he says. “Well, who knows,” said the farmer, “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”
The next day the farmer’s son decided to ride one of the new wild horses, to break it in. As luck would have it, the son was thrown from the horse and broke his leg.
Of course, upon hearing this sad news, their neighbor came over to offer condolences. “This is such sad thing,” he said. “Your son has broken his leg. This is bad news.” “Well, who knows,” said the farmer. “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”
There were more well wishes and commiseration from his neighbor. The farmer offers this Taoist wisdom, “Who knows what is good and bad?”
On the following day soldiers came by commandeering and army. They took sons from most of the surrounding farms, but because the farmer’s son had a broken leg, he could not go and was spared. And well, maybe it was good news and maybe it wasn’t.
Likely a Taoist story from about 2,000 years ago