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Good News, Bad News, Who Knows

This captivating story from ancient China challenges our immediate interpretations of events. Presented by a wise grandmother, it recounts the unpredictable nature of life’s twists. The family’s single horse, gone one day, returns with two more, elevating them to wealth. Yet, misfortune strikes when the grandson breaks his hip trying to tame a wild horse. The villagers’ reactions swing from sympathy to disbelief. The narrative unfolds with a recurring theme: “Good news. Bad news? Who knows?” It underscores the human tendency to hastily judge events as positive or negative, urging us to embrace uncertainty. An invaluable lesson in resilience, this tale invites reflection on the unpredictable journey of life.


Good news. Bad news? Who knows? First, a couple of comments for you, the facilitator or the team leader, whoever might be using this particular story. A couple of suggestions. We use it in our leadership development work. I know a lot of coaches have used this story after they’ve heard it. It’s a great way to help people who are experiencing something that’s bad, at least open their minds to the possibility that later on they might look back on this event and see it in a different way. Okay, I’m going to start the story in just a second. I want to give you this little heads up ahead of time. So here we go. Good news, bad news. Who knows? This is a wonderful story. It’s about someone who lived in ancient China, a family of people. They lived at a time and a place where you had to have a horse to survive, to work the fields, to make sure you had food and so forth. And this little family lived in a little cluster of huts with other people. And they had a horse. They had one horse. They were surviving.

Well, one day the grandson leaves the gate open to the corral, and their one horse wanders away and doesn’t come back. Oh my. All the villagers come up, and they say, “Oh goodness, what a terrible, terrible thing that’s happened. Your horse is gone. It’s an awful situation.” Well, the grandmother in the family who’s sitting outside the hut says, “Good news, bad news, who knows?” And all the people in the village go, “You know, grandma, not too sure about how she’s doing.” About a week later, this horse comes trotting back over the hill with two wild horses. It found out there. Now they have three horses. Now they’re the wealthiest family in the community, and they get the three horses in the corral. They lock the gate, and all the villagers come up. They go, “Oh my. How did you know this was going to be such a wonderful thing? Isn’t this fabulous? Now you’ve got three horses.” And grandma says, “Good news. Bad news. Who knows?” And the villagers go, “You know, grandma’s not playing with the full deck of cards here,” and they wander away. I don’t know if they had cards in those days.

Well, about a week later, the grandson is out in the corral trying to break one of these wild horses, kind of domesticate it, and the horse throws him, and he falls down and breaks his hip. And there’s no medical service out there. He’s going to be walking with a limp for the rest of his life. And all the villagers come up, and they go, “My goodness, how did you know that that was going to be such a tragic thing? What an awful thing that your grandson now has this problem with his hip.” And grandma says, “Good news. Bad news? Who knows? As we said back in Virginia, not sure all of her dogs are barking, but that’s what she says.” And so the villagers walk away. Well, about a week later, a warlord, a general, comes through town with an army drafting every single able-bodied young man that they can take. And they take every single young man in the community except the boy with the broken hip. And the villagers come up, and they go, “Oh, how did you know that this was going to be what’s a wonderful thing that your, your, your grandson or your son has been spared going away with the army? Isn’t that fabulous?” And grandma says, “Good news. Bad news? Who knows?” Now. When does this story end? Right.

It never, ever ends. Why? Because we human beings are instant interpreters. We are interpreting things instantaneously. When something happens, we decide immediately. We judge it immediately whether it’s going to be a good thing or a bad thing or some shade in between. And the truth is, we don’t know. Time will tell. How many times has something really great happened to you in the moment you thought, “This is fabulous,” and it turned out to be not so good? You’d be surprised at maybe not the number of suicides, the depression rate, and so forth among people who win the lottery and suddenly have millions and millions of dollars or euros to spend. It’s just unbelievable what happens to them. How many times has something bad happened to you or to someone?


This insightful video delves into essential survival skills for navigating today’s workplace challenges. Covering skills seven to ten, it emphasizes the importance of developing courage to face challenges (symbolized by “tigers”), mastering cross-functional teamwork, adapting to rapid change, and finding purpose beyond routine tasks. The author encourages readers to view their work as contributing to a larger purpose, urging them to quit a mundane job and discover work that aligns with personal passions and makes a meaningful impact. With a focus on personal development, organizational growth, and effective teamwork, the video provides practical advice for thriving in the dynamic modern workplace.

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