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Professional Corner

The Parable of Taoist Farmer

By Kent Moreno

Taoism (pronounced Dowism) is an ancient Chinese religion founded in the third or fourth century B.C. by Lao Tzu. Taoism also is called the water course way, for it believes that life flows in much the same way as a river. And like the river, though we are able to have influence over our lives, we are never able to take total control.

The Taoist prefers to look at life events without judgment or interpretation. According to Taoism, the true significance of events can never be understood as they are occurring, for in every event there are elements of both good and bad. Furthermore, each event has no specific beginning or end and may influence future events for years or even centuries to come. An excellent example of the Taoist view of life is found in the following parable of the Taoist farmer.

There was once a Taoist farmer. One day the Taoist farmer’s only horse broke out of the corral and ran away. The farmer’s neighbors, all hearing of the horse running away, came to the Taoist farmer’s house to view the corral. As they stood there, the neighbors all said, "Oh what bad luck!" The Taoist farmer replied, "Maybe."

About a week later, the horse returned bringing with it a whole herd of wild horses, which the Taoist farmer and his son quickly corralled. The neighbors, hearing of the corralling of the horses, came to see for themselves. As they stood there looking at the corral filled with horses, the neighbors said, "Oh what good luck!" The Taoist farmer replied, "Maybe."

At that same time in China, there was a war going on between two rival warlords. The warlord of the Taoist farmer’s village was involved in this war. In need of more soldiers, he sent one of his captains to the village to conscript young men to fight in the war. When the captain came to take the Taoist farmer’s son he found a young man with a broken leg who was delirious with fever. Knowing there was no way the son could fight, the captain left him there. A few days later, the son’s fever broke. The neighbors, hearing of the son’s not being taken to fight in the war and of his return to good health, all came to see him. As they stood there, each one said, "Oh what good luck!" The Taoist farmer replied, "Maybe."

When we as parents or family members learn that a child in our family is born with a disability, for many there is a sense of tragedy or loss. This sense of tragedy or loss also may be felt by those who know us when they learn of our child’s disability. Many of us heard statements like, "I’m so sorry," or "It’s probably a misdiagnosis." When I hear of a child being born with a disability and the statements that many times accompany such a birth, I think to myself, "MAYBE!" In my experience, both personal and professional, I have found that individuals with disabilities enrich our lives, not detract from them.

The most caring and empathetic people I know either have as family members, or work with, individuals with disabilities. I believe this greater ability for caring or empathy is because exposure to individuals with disabilities teaches people to see beyond the superficial exteriors of people and to better see the person that lies within.

Furthermore, individuals with disabilities challenge our perceptions of life and what it is supposed to be. This challenge requires us to examine life and its meaning more closely. With this closer examination of life comes the opportunity for insight as to what is really important in life and perhaps what we ourselves should be.

As parents of children with disabilities, for many of us the future of our children is somewhat uncertain. Some of our children may be able to lead very normal lives. For others of us, our children will require significant supports throughout life to be successful. My wife, Mollie, and I have often discussed the future of our son, Ben, and what we would like for him. Mollie is saddened by the fact that Ben will most likely never have a home of his own, get married or have a family. In truth, Mollie is probably right, but just because Ben does not have these things does not mean that he will be any less happy or his life any less meaningful.

We must focus on what our children can do, not on what they cannot. Ultimately, it is more important that our children are happy and have a meaningful and fulfilling life than that they achieve success as outlined by a couple of guys who work for an advertising agency on Madison Avenue.

I believe that our responsibilities lie in ensuring that children have the most meaningful and fulfilling life they are capable of and to see that they are treated with dignity and respect. If we do this, then regardless of the whether our children hold down a full-time job and live on their own, or live in a group home and attend a sheltered workshop, we as parents and professionals and the children as individuals will have been successful.

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Last modified: January 26, 2013