Good and bad, it's all the same: a Taoist parable to live by

Story highlights

  • The good-or-bad dichotomy is false, according to the Taoist tradition
  • "Who knows what's good or bad?" is useful to frame big and small events in our lives

This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness. The series is on applying to one's life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. You can follow David at @davidgallan. Don't miss another Wisdom Project column; subscribe here.

(CNN)Of all the philosophies, axioms and pearls of wisdom I've amassed over the years, one comes up more than any other. It's the Taoist lesson of the relative nature of good and bad. It's efficiently illustrated by the 2,000-year-old story of the good (and bad) fortune that follows a farmer's loss of his horse.

We use the good-or-bad dichotomy to categorize nearly everything in our lives -- events, people, food, decisions, even world history. But the lesson of the story is that there is actually no such thing as good or bad. It's a false distinction and a trap that only causes psychic pain. Good things are constantly being born out of the seemingly bad, and vice versa. Often, it seems, it's just a matter of time until an event or decision from one category leads directly to one in the other.