Saturday 11 September 2021

Taoist Story “Maybe” Modern Rewrites

Taoist Story “Maybe” Modern Rewrites

Written by Casey Douglass

Taoist Story “Maybe” Modern Rewrites

I enjoy koan or parable style stories, as they often contain nuggets of wisdom in an easy to digest way. After such all-stars as the sound of one hand clapping, and the one about the tree falling in the woods, the story that I most often encounter is the Taoist tale about a Chinese farmer. This tale is often called “Maybe”, so that’s the title I’ve stuck with.

The story states that the farmer’s horse runs away. When other people find out, they commiserate with him and say “Bad luck!”. He just shrugs and says “Maybe.”

The next day, the horse returns with some wild horses in tow. “How lucky!” everyone exclaims, all except the farmer who shrugs again and says “Maybe.”

A short while later, his son is trying to tame one of the wild horses, but is thrown from its back, breaking his leg. “Oh dear, how unlucky!” the neighbours say. No prizes for guessing what the farmer says.

A war breaks out, seeing young people being drafted from the local village. The farmer’s son is spared because of his broken leg. “How lucky!” people cry. The farmer says... “Maybe”.


I love this story for the way that it depicts the virtue of patience and of withholding judgement from a situation. I also enjoy how it hints that the things that initially seem bad might turn out to be a blessing in disguise and vice versa.

In this social media, 24 hour newsfeed world, a dose of what this story is offering would certainly work wonders in the over-reactionary, over-emotive way that many of us view the world. Every setback is a catastrophe, every victory the most amazing thing ever. You know how you sometimes get someone doing sign-language at the side of the news broadcast? I’d like to add a weathered farmer who shrugs and says “Maybe” after every judgement about a situation!

Mind you, if I got my way and that actually happened, how long before he becomes the subject of an idiotic internet story that goes viral? Maybe something saying that the “Maybe Man” is a danger to society for fence-sitting, for failing to condemn evil actions and seemingly revelling in spreading uncertainty. You just know it would happen! Damn it!

The Maybe story isn’t all rosy for me though. Sure, it illustrates some nice concepts, but its simplicity is also a little irritating. If only life were so simple that every “bad” thing actually proved to be a blessing, and every “good” thing couldn’t be trusted to not kick you in the backside. A more realistic scenario for many would be that a good thing turns out to be a curse, and then three or four bad things happen that also turn out to be genuinely bad. Yeah, not such a wise tale now.

I still like Maybe though. I find it fun to think about (as if you couldn’t guess). A short while ago, I had the idea/urge to rewrite Maybe in modern terms. I mean, a farmer losing his horse and it coming back with some wild horse friends is very lovely, but how relevant is that to someone living in 2021? With that in mind, below you’ll find two of my attempts at bringing Maybe kicking and screaming into the technological age. The first is intended to be the most realistic. The second is a horror and humour-inspired rewrite with a few twists added to the formula. I hope you like them.

Maybe 2021 Rewrite

There was a young woman who spent her spare time coding a video-game. It was a labour of love that one day, she released. Even though it didn’t make much money, it was hers. Hackers got into her digital platforms and stole her source-code. They cracked it and released the game online for free. “How terrible!” the woman’s friends commiserated. “Maybe,” she replied.

The next day, the woman found that the exposure given to the game by the hackers had resulted in a massive surge in her legitimate game sales. Her game now sat near the top of the indie game charts. “How wonderful!” her friends cheered. “Maybe,” she replied.

The game went on to reach number one. At about this time, a flaw in her code was discovered, one that posed a serious risk to the personal data of the players. News spread and the store forced her to remove it from sale until she could fix the issue. She was unable to, and had to put it on the back-burner, and so the game stayed down. “Such a shame!” her friends comforted her. “Maybe,” she answered.

A short while later, an email landed in her inbox. It was from a large video-game publisher and it offered to buy, fix and distribute her game. The money offered was enough to set the woman up for for at least the next five years. “You’re so lucky!” the people around her cried. “Maybe,” the coder replied.

Maybe Horror Rewrite

One day, the zombie outbreak finally happened. No one really expected the leap from fiction into reality, least of all a young boy and his family. They waded through body-clogged city streets, and finally made it to a military refuge. The other displaced people told them that they were so lucky to get there just before it reached full capacity. “Maybe,” the boy replied, as he had an uncommonly wise head on his young shoulders.

During the night, the family woke to screams and cries, a previously undeclared bite had turned the whole camp into a buffet. The family grabbed what supplies they could and managed to sneak away. The streets stank of gas and fumes. The boy’s mother suggested that a pipe-line had cracked. She warned them not to even use their torches, as the smallest spark might grill them all. “How unlucky!” she hissed. “Maybe,” the boy hissed back, and got a clout for his troubles.

The family crept forward until the air seemed free of the smell of the gas. A rumbling flash of orange lit up the night sky back the way they’d come. The angry roars of cooking zombies floated to the family on the breeze. The father said that they were lucky not to be caught up in that. He stared at the boy, daring him to open his mouth. Maybe, thought the boy.

The family moved on for quite awhile, but it wasn’t long until the whup-whup of a helicopter pounded over their heads. It was heading to where the explosion had happened. It didn’t see the family, it didn’t even turn its searchlight on until it was more than a mile away. “The fire brought it!” the boy said to the glum-faced adults around him. “Fuck me!” he added, for effect. “Talking like that will get you in trouble!” his father warned. “Maybe”, the mother replied, as she watched the buzzing helicopter over the distant rooftops.