Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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We often mistake admiration for affection, expect that the first leads to the second, and too often sacrifice the second for the first. Our natural talents, good fortunes, and inspirations can become a source of jealousy and resentments against us; or, they can become a foundation for tremendous goodwill when—instead of getting lazy resting on our accomplishments—we work hard doing good with both hands, being generous with both words and deeds, and being loved because of loving. In the social realm; courtesy, good manners, and grace become a kind of potent political magic. This nobility of spirit easily transmits through the years of history through the blessings of biographers.


Exaggeration—a close kin of lying— may provide a temporary benefit but quickly turns sour as the truth reveals itself. It wastes distinctions, offends the truth, and demonstrates the shallowness of our thinking, understanding and taste. Exaggerated praise kindles a kind of curiosity, desire, and action that quickly corrodes into disillusionment that cheapens the reputation of both the praised and the praiser. The wise avoid overstatement, prefer understating.


True leadership arises from a genuine, a natural, an inborn integrity. More powerful than any kind of trickery or conmanship, this authentic inner authority inspires the respect, the esteem, the faith, the hearts and minds of those around them. Lions because of charisma and kings by way of merit, they often become heads of state, rulers of industry, and managers of movements accomplishing more with a gesture than others do with long speeches.


Think like the wise, speak like the foolish. While the wise often see through deception and distorted views easily, the majority of people don't want things to change—even if obviously for the better—and resist, often violently, contradictory opinions. Few welcome the truth; most hear it as insult, a condemnation of their judgement, a threat to their status quo security. For this reason the wise hide their clarity and insights from the common spotlight, avoid contradicting as well as being contradicted, and take refuge in silence, only becoming visible in special contexts to carefully selected people.


Most associations, partnerships, and social cohesion in general appear to have foundations based on common goals, material reward, and various kinds of advantage. Though enough to initiate a team, it seldom creates meaningful work, happiness, loyalty, or longevity. These grow instead from a more subtle source—a deep and natural like-mindedness based on a non-verbal affinity. The mystery and practical usefulness of this more authentic and genuine foundation evolve a type of respect, esteem, and goodwill that persuades without proposal, accomplishes without effort, and can look almost like magic.


Carefully going forward with foresighted caution can become a clear expression of wisdom, confer great advantage, and assure success. Caution however commonly appears as cunning which readily arouses distrust, hatred, and a myriad of unexpected problems. For this reason, the more clever the strategy, the more critical to conceal it. Be shrewd, reflect, plan, and distrust but keep your suspicions hidden. Blending this kind of foresighted planning with an inscrutable outward expression develops the most skillful and appropriate action.


We often see our own unacknowledged inner imperfections in others and build dislikes and prejudices against people and experiences before we know anything true about them. When this fabricated aversion attaches itself to the good and noble, it degrades us in a similar but opposite way as the appreciation and respect for the good in others ennobles us.


Chains of cause and effect multiply from every action set in motion. The foolish see only the first link in this set, quickly commit, and get blindsided by the next-step consequences. The wise realize the distance and difficulty between taking on a new project and it becoming successful, take time to contemplate before acting, and avoid committing themselves unless they see a clear and valuable, multi-step process forward. Sometimes declining obligations requires more strength of character than accepting them. Rather than being led on by herd-instinct conformity, the prudent watch and let the fools rush in.


Most of us have accepted a one-dimensional social mask and have practiced to perfection performing an externally imposed role. Like an unfinished house with an elaborate, palace-like exterior but shabby, dilapidated interior rooms; superficial personalities often glow while character and integrity steep in a murky darkness. They may fool the undiscerning with their surface facade but the clear-sighted easily see through the deceptions. Conversations start with cheery platitudes but quickly end in an uncomfortable silence. Words soon end when they have no contemplative wellspring. Instead, become a genuine person of substance with deeply rooted but hidden depths of thought, understanding, and realization.


Don't let yourself become a victim of circumstance, of fate, of any person. Instead of lamenting, complaining, or projecting when difficulties arise, take responsibility and flow with, direct, and transform every experience with awareness. First impressions—frequently only based on a person’s acting skills or an advertiser's psychological understanding—almost always inflate, exaggerate, or skillfully lie. Instead of naively believing, the wise quickly see through the deception, perceive the hidden motivations and conflicts of interest. They reason based on reality and act based on insightful reasoning.


Be true to yourself and your own personal integrity rather than just following externally dictated rules. But keep that self-judgement pure with a higher standard than conventional morals and laws. Not because of looking for approval but for the sake of your own self-respect, avoid anything that diminishes this personal evaluation and dedication to goodness.


Success in life depends on making good decisions but often even the most intelligent and highly educated continually make choices that undermine their own happiness, accomplishments, and goals. Not intelligence, experience, or education assure good judgments. To be able to choose at all requires an objective and clear self-awareness. To make good choices requires an experiential understanding of cause and effect, an appreciation for the power of goodness, and a dedication to virtue.


Don't let passions, moods, or sudden emotions throw you off balance into doing or saying embarrassing things you'll regret later. Strong feelings create passions that—if unchecked—can destroy reputations, undermine friendships, and sabotage our projects. Instead of getting angry or upset, cultivate a kind of equanimity that appreciates both when things go our way and when they don't: when we meet with success and when we meet with failure, when we're praised and when we're reviled.


While fools often fail by rushing in too quickly, the wise often fail from too much deliberation. Haste without forethought, knowledge of the dangers, and preparation easily leads to failure. Too much hesitation and caution, however, can lead to procrastination and delay that misses opportunities and good fortune. Seizing quickly-passing opportunities often requires prompt judgment. Leaving nothing for tomorrow, mix diligence with intelligence and seize the day.


When we suppress our insight into the best response to a given situation because of a reluctance to create conflict, we compromise our integrity and only delay and amplify the difficult moments. For bees to make honey, they need to rely on their stingers for protection. Moral courage goes far beyond just physical courage while moral cowardice degrades much more than physical weakness. Because of this reluctance to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done, many otherwise intelligent and talented people live empty lives of meaningless boredom cocooned in their cowardice.


"Time and I Against Any Two"
Accomplishments quickly and easily gained normally have shallow roots, easily reverse, and mean little. Lasting, meaningful achievements build up little by little over long periods of time. Master yourself first by never rushing or letting excitement unleash passions that lead to ill-considered decisions. Thoughtful and strategic patience actualizes opportunity while haste falls far short. By patiently navigating the maze of time we avoid unforeseen pitfalls and slowly build success. The best idea attempted at the wrong time fails while composed, even-tempered waiting recognizes the unique moment for the most advantageous action.


Clear insight arising from awareness avoids danger and accomplishes even the most difficult of tasks. This kind of confidence transcends reason, quickly finds solutions and the most appropriate response to even complicated and confusing dilemmas. Too much thought however can dissipate intuition and lead to deeds based on theory instead of the immediate experience. Reflection that uses but doesn't depend on thinking takes advantage of momentary uniqueness, acts at the best time, and often succeeds without effort.


Though many may secretly believe in and search for various kinds of "free lunch," in the real world, success only arises from thoughtful preparation, careful attention, and diligent, hard work. Successful projects finish on time if done well. Don't sacrifice quality for an early completion.


Less but more frequent goes much further than dumping everything at once onto a situation. Capacities for understanding differ and when we give someone too much too soon, eyes glaze over and—instead of being impressed—people can become confused and even resentful. Momentum means everything and it requires regular refueling. Too much on display today means not enough for tomorrow. Instead, pace yourself, never do more than enough, waste not knowledge or resource, and always keep something new in reserve.


Don’t let the success of a moment distract you from the steps toward a happy completion. Most often, a fortuitous beginning degenerates into a tragic ending; ventures begin with high-flying exuberance but end in disillusionment and failure. Or they begin with great difficulty and suffering but end with a contented accomplishment. History judges few worthy of an encore because most let temporary successes corrupt them away from their focus on the goals of integrity. Care less about how you look and how people regarded you during the process, more about if and how you can cross the finish line.