Life is really unfair, maybe…maybe not.


The first place I heard this story was from Tony Robbins at a UPW seminar. I actually forget the context it was in at the time but the story itself carried with me for all the years that followed. I am sure it has taken many forms with subtle changes but this is what I remember:

Once there was an old village. In this village, there were the villagers, and there was one odd farmer who lived on the outskirts of the village. He was a little bit different. The way he thought, his philosophy to life was just something that didn’t quite sit well with the rest of the villagers.

This farmer had a horse and one day, his horse went off and ran away. That was just as he went out and bought a new saddle for the horse. This horse ran away and took the saddle with it.

The villagers, hearing of this news, went to the farmer’s farm and said: “We’re so sorry! What bad luck you have. Your horse ran away.” The farmer looked at them and said: “Maybe it’s bad luck, but who knows? Maybe it’s good luck.”

They looked at him weird and said: “How could it be good luck? Your horse, your only horse ran away. What are you going to do now?” He said: “Well, we don’t know. Maybe it’s good luck, maybe it’s bad luck.” The villagers left his house scratching their heads and went back to their business.

A few days later, the horse returned to the farmer. It brought with it three wild horses. Now the farmer had his horse back, with the saddle, plus three new, untamed horses. The villagers, hearing of this news, made their way to the farmer’s house. They said: “Wow. What amazing luck you have!”

The farmer looked at them and said: “Maybe it’s good luck, but maybe it’s bad luck. Who knows?” The villagers looked at him puzzled. “How could you possibly say this was bad luck? You had one horse, it ran away, now you have that horse back and three new ones. This is amazing.” The farmer looked at them and said “Maybe it’s good luck, but maybe it’s bad luck.” The villagers left shaking their heads, not sure what to think.

Then a few days passed. The farmer’s son had to tame and train these new three horses. As he was trying to train one of them, it kicked him, knocked him down and he broke his leg over a rock. The rest of the villagers, hearing of this news made their way to the farmer’s house. They said: “We’re so sorry. What terrible luck you’ve had!” The farmer looked at them and said: “Maybe it’s terrible luck, but maybe it’s good luck.”

The villagers couldn’t stand this anymore. “How could you possibly say this is good luck? Your only son broke his leg. Surely this is the worst of luck?” The farmer looked at them, considered their suggestions and said: “Maybe it’s bad luck, but maybe it’s good luck.” The villagers were just aghast, and they walked away angry.

A few days later, as the son was recuperating from the broken leg, he was lying on the bed. The country officials came by through the village, and they were conscripting troops for the army, for the war that was going to be waged overseas. They rounded up all the able-bodied young men in the village to go off to die in battle. They didn’t take the farmer’s son, because he was not able to walk.

Or to put it more simply from Mizuta Masahide (水田 正秀, 1657–1723) who was a seventeenth-century (Edo period) Japanese poet and samurai:

Barn’s burnt down — now I can see the moon.

From my life I am certain I can dig up many examples of this theme but the one that continues to amaze me is my story of LeVar Burton.

In 2005 I won an auction for the benefit of the Nation Press Club to “Give your child a priceless gift: reading time with actor LeVar Burton.” After winning the auction there was quite a delay to here anything back about coordinating dates or any other details. Enough of a delay where I could have wondered if this was going to be one of those promises that never get fulfilled. So I waited patiently until about two months later where we got the surprise of a personal message LeVar left at the home answering machine. (Remember those things?) Turns out he was without a personal assistant at the time, just coming back from being out of the country, and thus communicated an apology for the delay as he managed the fulfillment of the auction win himself.

I am sure when he offered his services as an item for the auction he did not expect to be bothered with the details of dealing with the winner, scheduling, setting up the logistics, and so on…but so here we were, over the next couple of months, trading calls back and forth to setup a visit to a school — instead of just one child—for the gift of reading time with the man who is “Reading Rainbow.” The visit was amazing. I do, however, remember it starting with a hotel elevator that was out of order at the time and picking up a sweaty LeVar before beginning a few outstanding hours being the rock star of the day for the entire school.

The auction item did not include travel expenses and since LeVar was out this way for something else he only asked for the car service to get into the area from his previous engagement, along with the hotel, to be covered. Covering the hotel was easy. When he checked out I paid for his stay. The car expense, however, was something to be settled later when he had the bill for the service that was already rendered. He had my address, and even left me a message to say that he would be sending it, but nothing ever showed up in the mailbox — or in email for that matter. Yes, I had his personal phone numbers but who am I to stalk someone’s private time for an invoice. It might seem odd but I placed that value even above the firm value of not owning anybody anything.

So time passed and in 2010 I saw that LeVar was going to be at a local Chiller Theatre Expo. The interesting thing on this point is not only can I not explain why I saw this fact but nor can I explain, and never asked, why he was going to be there in the first place. Reading Rainbow / Kunte Kinte / Geordi La Forge at a Chiller Theatre Expo? Just didn’t make sense. Anyway, I actually looked at it as an opportunity to say hello again and tell LeVar that I was still looking to pay that car service bill from 2006.

Not having tickets in advance, nor any experience of being at an expo like this before, I was not exactly prepared for the chaos of getting to the right place at the right time but somehow it all managed to work out and as recognition lighted in his eyes it turned out to be a nice 3 minute reunion to which he, of course, had no memory about not being repaid as promised for the car service. Some might think this was relief for me but as “a Lannister always pays his debts” now what the heck was I to do?

Yes, I am a Star Trek fan. Yes, I am a Reading Rainbow fan. Yes, I remember LeVar from Roots. However, what impressed me the most was seeing the passion he placed into the simple task of reading when he made the visit to the school back in 2006. At the time of seeing him again shooting was just wrapped on my first Executive Producer film credit for the SyFy movie “Jabberwock” which was in production in Bulgaria. Having just begun a partnership in a film studio out of Vancouver, BC I did not even have business cards for that venture yet but I did take the two seconds to tell him what I was up to and handed him my investment company business card in the off chance that there was any opportunity to work together in the future. Looking at the card he did mention there actually might be something to talk about, which I did not take to mean for much at the time, and from there we said our goodbyes and so ended the my first and only experience at a Chiller Theatre Expo.

At the opening of 2011 I was rather surprised to actually get that call from LeVar explaining he wanted to bring Reading Rainbow back—taking the form of interactive digital children’s books with the thesis being during the days of Reading Rainbow the TV was the place where kids found their entertainment whereas now it is on the iPads and other tablet devices instead. So began the journey to invest in a legacy that would start as an iPad app delivered to the public in 2012.

For most any company starting it takes some money to get into business and at some point further down the road it takes more money to expand that business into something that has enough mass to be able to grow and thrive on its own. This statement is certainly true for what was started here and one would think this would be easy, or at least not difficult, after releasing an app for the iPad that grew nearly overnight into the number one spot for Education titles on the iTunes store. Well, it wasn’t. Due to several failed trails and false trials we were faced with looking towards using Kickstarter as a possible solution to bring the app to other platforms and into the classroom where we knew there could be a much larger impact.

Thus, on May 29th the Bring Reading Rainbow Back for Every Child, Everywhere! Kickstarter campaign was launched with the goal of raising $1,000,000 over 35 days. 11 hours later we met that goal which later turned into a record for the Kickstarter with the most backers ever to date. Having raised a total of $5,408,916 from backers and another $1,000,000 from Seth MacFarlane in matching funds the company can now deliver on the promises made for access and expansion.

Having to wait for an extended period of time to get a reply, not having a PA at a time when they would be especially useful, not getting an invoice — and on the flip side not getting paid, booked at Chiller Theatre Expo, not having the ‘right’ business card, having the #1 app for Education, failing to find further funding, having the number one Kickstarter for backers, and, no, the story doesn’t end there…

Some challenges lead to the best things that happen in life whereas some successes do not necessarily make things any easier going forward. The real choice we have to either watch others play the game or decide for ourselves to be on the court of life. Though there may not be a way to ultimately win the game of life you can certainly get better at it by spending more time practicing than observing.

As Steve Jobs said at his Stanford Commencement address:

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

(Originally posted on Medium)