Home Living Mind & Spirit Revisiting the Fairy Tale 'What the Old Man Does Is Always Right'

Revisiting the Fairy Tale ‘What the Old Man Does Is Always Right’

Fairy tales were my favorite when I was little. I read Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales and Stories and Grimm’s Fairy Tales hundreds of times. However, there was one fairy tale that puzzled me, What the Old Man Does Is Always Right. It is the last story in Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales and Stories.

The story is a triviality about an old couple and two gamblers. While the poor couple wanted to trade their horse for money, the old man was fooled by a sequence of people and exchanged the horse for a cow, then a goat, goose, chicken, and finally for a basket of rotten apples.

(Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)
Hans Christian Andersen (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Two gamblers overheard the old man’s plight and believed that he would be scolded by his wife for his stupidity once he got home. Henceforth, they made a bet with him. If he was not chided by his wife, he would receive a bag of gold coins.

The old man went home with the gamblers and described the details of his trades to his wife from their horse to a cow, then to a goat, a goose, a chicken, and finally to rotten apples. At each description of events, his wife praised him for his wise decision.

At the end of the tail, the wife gave her husband a kiss. The two gamblers were astonished by her reaction and gave the bag of gold coins to the old man as promised.

The story was so exceptional that it left a vivid impression in my mind.  Nevertheless, I did not comprehend the essence of the story at the time.

At each trade, his wife praised him for his wide decision. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)
At each trade, his wife praised him for his wise decision. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

It was only when I was older and had started practicing self-cultivation that I came to understand its full meaning. By practicing cultivation, I gradually learned that  “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” and “gain or loss” are all  defined by our surroundings.  It may not necessarily be correct from a divine point of view, as more often than not, what humans believe is often not true.  

How many people can really differentiate the true meanings behind gain or loss. There is no gain without loss and vice versa. If a person has the wisdom to accept a given situation, and always sees goodness in it, they will, like the old couple in the fairy tale, have a life of simplicity and contentment.

Translated by Jean Chen.

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