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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Having More

Recently, I chatted with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. He was an entrepreneur, so I asked him about his business.

"It's doing extremely well." He perked up: "We are growing, and I am hiring more people while my competitors are downsizing."

"That is great news," I congratulated him. "It must be satisfying to run a successful company, especially in this economy."

"Well... believe it or not, it's quite the opposite." He winced: "At the moment I am actually feeling more frustration than satisfaction."

"Why?" I was curious: "What can be so frustrating about a company that is doing well?"

"It's not so much the company but the people in it - my employees!" He explained: "The thing that really bugs me is seeing them do so little with their lives. I'm always looking to better myself by reading books and learning more about business. They go home and vegetate in front of the TV, or they go out partying
and get drunk. Where they are today is exactly where they were when I hired them years ago. They have not advanced themselves in any way. It's such a waste of time and potential."

"What makes them that way?" I asked: "What do they lack so that they end up wasting time and potential?"

He paused for a moment. "Motivation perhaps. Or, maybe they just don't realize that life is short and we have to make the most of what we have."

"We can call that clarity, in the sense that they are not seeing the finite duration of life clearly."

"Yes, that would be accurate," he nodded. "They don't have enough motivation and clarity, and that is why they waste their time and potential. Is there a Tao teaching that will help me not feel so frustrated with them?"

"There is - the same teaching as the one for people who are highly intelligent, and become arrogant or impatient with those who are not as smart as they are."

He was puzzled: "Isn't that humility? I don't see the connection at all."

"Take a look at chapter 2 of the Tao Te Ching." I pointed out the relevant passage to him:

Long and short reveal each other
High and low support each other

"I remember your lecture on this," he searched his memory. "You said it was about things being relative to one another, and how every description gave rise to its opposite, like the complementary pair of yin and yang."

"Excellent!" I encouraged him: "Now apply that concept to what you just described. If some of your employees have less motivation and clarity, it must mean that you have more."

"Sure, that makes sense."

"If it were the other way around - they have more and you have less, then it may be that your situation today would be the exact opposite. You may be working for them instead of them working for you, and they may be feeling frustrated with you right now about your lack of motivation and clarity."

"Yes... that makes sense also."

"So how is it that you have more and they have less?" I asked. "We don't get to decide how much talent we should receive before being born. If we have more of a particular thing, it is only because we were given more of it, whatever it is. Thus, having more is essentially an arbitrary stroke of luck."

"Interesting," he turned the concept over in his mind. "I guess I've never thought of it that way."

"What this means is that when you have more of a good thing and others have less, the Tao perspective is not that you should feel arrogant because you are superior to them, nor frustrated because you are impatient with them. Rather, the idea is to recognize your abundance as the perfect reason to feel grateful. You were never entitled to more, and yet you ended up with more. Is this not the most remarkable good fortune for which we should feel the utmost gratitude?"

My friend sat stunned. "I guess I've never thought of it that way either," he shook his head in amazement. "Wow!"

Once explained, this teaching seems so simple and obvious, and yet we may never realize it on our own without guidance. This is why we see so many people out there feeling negative emotions against others. They suffer from their negativity because they have never learned to always look at it from the perspective of the Tao. That perspective has the power to transform annoyance into appreciation in an instant!


The Rambling Taoist said...

I think you have made a great point to a certain extent. It is true that each of us is bestowed with our own individual talents and traits. But maybe your friend saw the potential that others did not see in themselves.

Sometimes people have abundance and don't realize it due to things like low self-esteem. All they need is a helping hand -- a push or a nudge -- to realize the abundance they possess.

Richard said...

Rambling Taoist,

There is a difference between coaxing potential from others and becoming frustrated with them. Even when given all the assistance you can give it, a flower won't open faster than it can. We just have to give it the best conditions to flourish and accept the rest.

The Rambling Taoist said...

I don't disagree with what you've written. My point is that it's much easier said than done. It's one thing when we become frustrated due to our own selfish motivations like arrogance. But it's more difficult for a less selfish person -- one that is more self-less -- who sees great potential in others that's not being realized.

Richard said...

Taoism generally is easier s. than d. That comes as a surprise to a lot of people. : )

MaWhit said...

I find that Taoism is more easily "done" than said, actually. In my own life, at least. I can write hundreds of words on the topic, but they still never adequately express the experience of the Tao.

Interesting post. (And blog.)

baroness radon said...

I think it is also important to recognize not only the relativity, but that the yin and yang of it is never static. Some of those "frustrating" people may "progress" to achieve greater potential and become frustrated with you; you may become the frustrating. In fact it is quite likely. There is always change.

caccioly said...

Dear Derek,

There is another implication to the passage you quoted, which, in my opinion, is even more important.

According to the Tao Te Ching, all qualities are relative. Just as your friend is more industrious than his employees, there are people who are more industrious than he is. Thinking "I am industrious and they are not" is not in accordance with the Tao. He could just as correctly (or incorrectly) say "I am a slacker when compared to those who are more industrious than me".

Derek said...

Carlos, that is absolutely correct. Someone who is smarter than average can still seem slow and dull compared to the Stephen Hawkings of the world. :)

Ta-Wan said...

The strength and virtue and talents of those seen to have less strength and virtue and talents is that they will fill roles others will not.

Given equal drive and happiness only gained from "being on top" would lead to all out failure. Nature seems rather to nurture an ecosystem of variety: so people seemingly above or below us are equally valid.

Unknown said...

I am new to your blog. The perspective of the business owner is in alignment with the values of hard work for reward. Your previous post about the interpretation of not having goals and success is about this, no? I would interested to hear more from you on the Tao, the value of work and how goal setting and achievement can be experienced altogether. Thank you.