The farmer and his son

A long time ago, a happily married couple was living in the countryside in China. The husband was farming in the field and the wife took care of the home. Time flew by; now the husband was almost fifty years old and the wife had already reached her forties, but they did not have any children. Life would be perfect if they could only have a child.

Finally, their wish came true. A healthy boy was born shortly after the husband turned fifty years old. Life was happy until the wife became very ill. Before she passed away, she told her husband: “Dear master, I have a brother who lives 150 li (approx. 75 km) away from here. Our son is still very young and you are getting too old to take care of all the farming activities by yourself. If you go to my brother, he will help you.”

Soon the farmer’s wife passed away. The husband got weak and sick from grief. He struggled to stay on his farm with his son for another year, but finally he had no choice but to give up his lovely farm and seek help from his wife’s brother. In the middle of the hot summer, the farmer and his eight year-old son left with their only asset – an old donkey.

After one day of travel, they reached a small town and looked for a place to rest for the night. The farmer and his son had noticed that all the people walking by were looking at the old donkey with sympathy. “How could you let this poor old thing carry two men on its back? Look at how tired the old donkey is – its legs are weak and shaky. Does the owner have a heart, to let the poor thing suffer like this?” The people from the small town all stared at them with angry faces.

The farmer and his son left the small town the next day. The father felt very guilty about how badly he had treated his donkey. So he walked, but he let his son ride the donkey, for at eight years old, he was too young to walk the long journey.

After another two days’ travel, they arrived in a bigger city. To their surprise, people were all pointing their finger at his son, saying: “How disrespectful a boy he is. Look at his poor old father who has to walk with a crippled leg. The son looks young and healthy but he doesn’t even let his old father ride on the donkey.” The people all shook their head in disapproval at the son’s disrespectful behaviour towards his elders. The young boy felt so bad from the people’s comments that he refused to ride on the donkey, insisting that his father should ride instead.

Two days later, they arrived in a another mid-sized city.People were all pointing their finger at the old man, saying: “Shame on you, old man! How can you let your grandson walk while you are relaxing on the donkey? We cannot believe the irresponsible way you treat your grandchild. Don’t you see that the child is still a baby, you cruel old fool!” The old farmer felt ashamed. He quickly got off the donkey and hid his face.

The father and son walked beside the donkey for another five days. Finally they reached the big city where the brother-in-law lived. Their faces and clothes were covered with dust. Their shoes were worn with holes and they looked like they were going to pass out at any moment. People walking by were all laughing and pointing their finger at them again, saying: “Look at the two foolish beggars, instead of riding the donkey to save themselves some energy, they are slaves. How can such a ridiculous thing happen in our city?”

Which is the right way for the father and his son to behave in this tale? There is no easy answer. If we cannot decide in this simple story what is right or wrong, how can we judge which religion or belief is right or wrong, which relationship is right or wrong, which medicine is right or wrong, which diet or lifestyle is right or wrong, which investment is right or wrong…?

Everything has two sides, like a coin has a head side and a tail side. Neither is better than the other; neither is right or wrong. One opinion is not better than another; it simply states different sides of the facts. An opinion can thus only be right for the person who states it. To disagree is simply to see the other side of the coin.

When you step back to look at the bigger picture, you can see both sides of an issue more clearly. This gives you a more balanced view of the situation and puts you in a better position to decide what is right or wrong for you.

–Dr. Thomas Zhang