The Art of Losing

A troubled farmer approaches the village elder, “I am not good at solving problems.  Could you please teach me a few easy tricks?”  The wise elder replies, “Sure, but first, I need your help.  My herd of cows has just returned from the fields, gathering around the big tree in the courtyard.  Can you take a head count while I freshen up?”

The man wastes no time and moves very fast through the herd, counting rapidly.  After his initial success, he runs into a challenge.  The cows are stacked up one behind the other; therefore, he is unable to see them all at once.  Due to the constant flux of cows around him, he realizes there are few he has counted more than once, and then there are others he hasn’t counted at all!  Frustrated, he gives up and goes back to the elder.  The wise man goes on to enlighten him… 

Moving as fast as possible does not necessarily solve problems.

Enlightened, the man goes back with a more meticulous plan.  He cajoles each cow into sitting down and only then counts it.  He figures that the few who refuse to sit will be easy to spot and can be later added to the count.  Unfortunately, he again runs into the same challenge as before, as some cows get up or sit down behind his back while he’s busy taking stock of the herd.  Dejected, he goes back only to be counseled again by the elder…

Moving slow and steady does not necessarily solve problems.

This confuses the man.  If neither our agility nor our thoroughness can solve issues, then what can?  The wise elder smiles and points him toward the courtyard tree.  Taking the cue, the man climbs the tree.  From his vantage point, he has a panoramic view of the entire herd.  His position allows him to easily count all the cows, regardless of whether they are sitting, standing, or moving.  Within a few minutes, he climbs down victorious with the exact count. 

The wise man elaborates on the metaphor: problems in life are like the individual cows in the herd.  Some will go down with our intervention, some will go down on their own, some will stand up again, and some will just move around.  As for others, we won’t even learn of their existence!  There is no assurance that we can solve (or even need to solve) all the problems. 

You see, there are no easy tricks to finding solutions.  What’s in our control is the effort we put into comprehending the bigger picture of life’s challenges.

Often, solving issues is not about moving fast or staying steady.  Rather, time and again, we need to take a step back, look at the expanse of our issues from a high vantage point, and then embark on corrective measures.

Vantagepoint, Obstacles, Original


  1. Incredibly resonant piece!

  2. Always hv a big picture !!! great lesson in the story

  3. A much needed reminder!

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The Art of Losing