Created By: bulmabriefs144 on December 1, 2012 Last Edited By: bulmabriefs144 on December 2, 2012

Taoist Aesop

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There was a man who led a righteous life, whose horse escaped. Everyone pitied him, but he said "what makes you think this is a bad thing?" Later, it returned, accompanied by a barbarian stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but he said "what makes you think this is good?" He fell and broke his hip. Everyone pitied him, but he said "what makes you think this is bad?" One year later, a large party of barbarians entered the border, sending all to war. From the people living around the border, nine out of ten died. But just because he was lame, the old man and his son were both spared.

So, you know the score, work hard, save up, and buy that new car or video game system. Because that's what everyone does. Only, that new thing turns out to be defective, and had you simply waited another week, the second-rate thing has been priced well below its actual worth. Or course, this isn't only true in economy, how many times have you been told to eat your veggies? Yea, I know they're kinda nasty, but they keep you regular, while that trans fat-laden pie may taste great but will ruin your health. Or course, sometimes there are multiple layers of this (for instance, at one point, saturated fat was the enemy, and margarine was the healthy alternative).

A Taoist Aesop is a wonderfully Family-Unfriendly Aesop, that goes something like this "What you think is good is actually the worst thing for you, what you think is bad (or mediocre) is actually is the best thing for you." It is so named because this, and similar teachings come from Taoism, for example, there is another expression, "when things flourish, they decline."

The original parable wasn't about things, though, it was about the nature of the future, that misfortune may be a blessing in disguise. Or maybe not.

Contrast Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad, which appears to be about living according to a standard of evil, as if it's the right thing to do, and eschewing all appearance of goodness (and vice versa for good people).


  • The Chuang Tzu has the quote example.
  • Filipino horror film Feng Shui has a girl find a "lucky" ba gua mirror. It's actually cursed, and its good luck is also part of its bad luck. Whenever she has a big windfall, someone has died according to their zodiac. She is told rejecting good fortune when it comes is the way to break the curse, but she kinda does it wrong. Creepy ending, by the way.
  • Debbie Macomber's Call Me Mrs. Miracle has some trendy new plastic toy that everyone has to have, that the protagonist decides not to carry in their store, because they grew up liking traditional toys. It turns out the toy explodes, and having not stocked on it, they are ahead since they don't have to deal with refunds.

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