Discussing “Bad” News Using the Fable of the Horse

Discussing “Bad” News Using the Fable of the Horse
March 4, 2024 Jen Ryley

Leading a team means we sometimes have to share news that nobody wants to hear. It’s like being the captain of a ship when the weather turns bad. We need to find a way to keep everyone’s spirits up, even when things look grim. That’s where the power of a good story can come in handy, especially one as timeless as the fable of the horse. It’s a simple tale, but it packs a lot of wisdom about luck, change, and how we see things.


The Story

In China, there is an parable called “Sāi Wēng Lost His Horse”.


Imagine a small village in China near the border. In this village lived an old farmer known for his wisdom, and his lively horse. One day, the horse ran away. The villagers shook their heads and said, “That’s such bad luck!” But the farmer just said, “Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A week later, the horse came back, bringing along a bunch of wild horses. Now the villagers were saying, “That’s amazing luck!” Yet, the old farmer repeated, “Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Then, the old man’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses, fell off, and broke his leg. Everyone felt sorry for them, saying, “Such bad luck, again!” The old man’s response? “Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Not long after, a war broke out, and all the young men in the village were called to fight, except for the old man’s son, who couldn’t go because of his broken leg. This time, the villagers were convinced, “That was really good luck!” And as you might guess, the old man simply said, “”Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.”


The Message

This story shows us how quickly things can change and how what seems bad one day might turn out to be good the next. It teaches us to keep an open mind and not to rush into judging our situations too quickly. When sharing the story, we can also point out how often we see this play out in real life. How many times have we seen someone get laid off, only to find their dream job shortly after? Or picture a person who goes through a messy divorce they don’t want and finds their soulmate on the other side. The reality is we just don’t know where things will lead.


Sharing This Story as a Leader

When it’s time to give your team members some bad news, telling them this story can help soften the blow.

Here’s one way to do it, depending on your team and culture:

Tell the Story: Start a team meeting or a one-on-one chat with this tale. It sets a calm, thoughtful mood. Ask the person / team for examples of where they have also seen this.

Link It to Now: Explain how this story reminds us that the future can surprise us, and things might not be as bad as they seem.

Talk About It: Ask your team what they think of the story and how it makes them feel about the news. This can help everyone feel more connected and understood.

Highlight Staying Strong: Point out that being flexible and strong, like the characters in the story, helps us get through tough times.


When you’re leading through tough spots, remember the fable of the horse. It’s more than just a story. It’s a reminder that life is full of ups and downs, and sometimes, a situation that seems bad today may lead to good things tomorrow. Sharing this tale can help inspire your team to see challenges in a new light, and to keep moving forward with hope and strength.

And most of all during change, remember that everyone will process it at a different rate. Be patient, supportive and create a lot of space for discussion and questions both now and later.

Being a leader means not just guiding your team when the sun is shining but also being there to light the way through the storm. The story of the horse, with its simple wisdom, is a beautiful way to share the power of perspective, helping your team navigate through changes with a bit of grace and positivity.


Need support for leaders during change? Reach out!