The Present is Perfect: The Parable of the Chinese Farmer

(Note: This post was originally published in the spring of 2020, at the start of the pandemic. But the projects and ideas listed here can benefit your life at any time!)

Right now, with the Coronavirus sweeping the world and the death toll continuing to mount, it seems outrageous to say that the present is perfect. How could it possibly be, when so many are stuck at home, unable to socialize with our friends, unable to visit our aging relatives, out of work, and facing financial hardships? There isn’t anything “perfect” about this scenario. This coaching concept though, is as old as the hills as the parable of the Chinese farmer illustrates:

A farmer and his family in ancient China owned a horse. His neighbors said how lucky he was to have such a fine horse to pull his plow through the fields. The farmer said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

One day the horse broke through the gate and ran away. His neighbors came around to lament his terrible loss, saying it was a terrible bit of bad luck. The farmer said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

Days later the horse returned to the farm along with seven wild horses. His neighbors came around to exclaim his remarkable good fortune, saying, “Now you are rich!” The farmer said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

A few weeks later the farmer’s son was training the new wild horses and fell off and broke his leg. The neighbors came around to commiserate his misfortune and said, “What bad luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

The next week the army came around taking all the able-bodied young men from the village to fight in the war. The farmer’s son with the broken leg was left behind. The neighbors now lamented the loss of their sons and commented on how lucky the farmer was to have his son.

And so the story goes on…

In times of disaster we are so focused on the current pain and loss that it is very hard to see how such a thing could actually be good. It rarely appears good in the moment. Alternatively, good things may not be as good as they seem. We know that lottery winners are often unhappy a year after their seeming good fortune. The Taoists belief is that things are neither good nor bad, just what is so. This is the truth, but I prefer to put a positive spin on Taoism.


Why not simply declare that everything is good and seek to find the good in the bad? The present is perfect.

Most people would agree that after a challenging experience, they come out stronger, more resilient, wiser, or humbled. It is through challenge that we build character and learn just what we are capable of.

I challenge you now to look for the good that is occurring around you. The birds are singing, animals are roaming the suddenly quiet city streets, the air is clearing. As a world, we are now all forced to be on a money diet whether we want to or not as we simply can’t spend much staying at home, which may lead you to question how much of that spending was really bringing you joy.

We are being forced to learn to get along with our own family members. My bickering teenage daughters have stopped fighting, realizing that they have no one else to play with so they best learn to get along. The kids used to complain about having to go to school, but now they miss it. Learning that school is actually a privilege is such an incredible insight.

We have all caught up on sleep and are starting to remember our dreams for the first time in years. We are learning how to bake bread from sourdough starter and slow down and enjoy cooking and eating together as there are no after school activities to rush to. The world has slowed down, the days feel long. I take a long walk with my husband every day and am incredibly grateful we live near the sea. I am really appreciating how much I love my friends and miss seeing them.

The many costs, the pain is obvious to see, but who knows what the long-term benefits might be? I hope that telecommuting will become commonplace, and telecommuters will be applauded for doing their bit to reduce pollution and traffic congestion. One of our clients says her company even gives her a small extra stipend for working at home and saving them on office space costs and supplies. Companies are starting to realize that virtual meetings work just fine. This should significantly reduce travel costs, making life easier for working people everywhere. We are starting to see that having good medical care available to everyone is essential, not just a luxury.

What are you learning, how are you growing, what challenges are you overcoming right now? Can you see how the present is perfect?

And, if right now all you can feel is the pain, the loss, that is perfect too. It is good to wallow in sorrow while grieving a loss. Take the time to grieve. We so rarely have the luxury to even grieve properly these days.

This too, like all things, will pass.


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