Lenten Observance: Day 22

Tao 43 & 44:

43: “The gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world.”  This is a common trope — we have the gentle warmth of the sun convincing a man to take off his coat, which the hard, cold wind was unable to do.  It tried to tear the coat away, but the sun’s warmth moved the man to take off his coat without violence.  There is also the water on rock, where water, which is seen as gentle, can, over time, wear down a rock, which is hard.

44: Again, dichotomies: fame or integrity; money or happiness; success or failure.  Which is better and which more destructive?  In a way these dichotomies (other than the last) are not true opposites.  Fame does not necessarily mean the loss of integrity, but to become famous, some people are willing to betray any core principles of who they are (I’d put Mitt Romney in this group  — rather than remain true to any principles, he is willing to change for any audience to get the prize he thinks he needs — the Presidency).  In his case, fame does come at a cost to his integrity, but it needn’t be so.  The Dalai Lama has fame, but seems to remain humble.  Many people would not see money and happiness as opposites, but rather see money (or material comfort) as necessary for happiness.  But money too can bring misery — if one becomes a miser, or is all caught up in the pursuit of money, other things that make life worth living are lost — consider the story of Scrooge.  Money did not ultimately bring him happiness, though his scarcity thinking as a young man convinced him that it would, and he continued down that path almost until it was too late.  It is a problem I have with the scarcity thinking of those in the government (largely Republican, but some Democrats) — rather than do right by people, there is this constant drumbeat that “we don’t have enough money,” all the time the wealthiest are getting even more money.  Scarcity thinking can lead you down the path of cutting you off from others (if there isn’t enough for everyone, then people are likely to panic and hoard what they can).   The third is a bit more interesting — which is worse, success or failure?  Well, the common thinking condemns failure, but failure often leads us to reevaluate — it gives us information on which to act.  Painful as a failed marriage or relationship is, one can learn from those mistakes.  And America is success-crazy, but success can lead you to be overconfident, or sloppy in your thinking.  Just like money, there can be the sense of “if only I have X amount of something,” then I can be happy or safe.  And such thinking is mistaken.  Of course, in the Tao, all dichotomies disappear, so that success is not better than failure.

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