Welcome to our 2nd installment of the Toon-Te-Ching. Each week we are taking one of the 81 verses of the Tao-Te-Ching, pairing it with a toon and connecting the teaching to our work life.
Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty,
Only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.
Being and nonbeing produce each other.
The difficult is born in the easy.
Long is defined by short, the high by the low.
Before and after go along with each other.
So the sage lives openly with apparent duality
And paradoxical unity.
The sage can act without effort
And teach without words.
Nurturing things without possessing them,
He works, but not for rewards;
He competes, but not for results.
When the work is done, it is forgotten.
That is why it lasts forever.
Embrace the paradox. This verse introduces the concept of the paradox, a core concept in eastern thinking. In business we tend to think of things in binary terms, it’s either one or the other. The Tao manages polarities, holding opposites, embracing paradox.
I had a situation last week where my work was criticized. Someone asked me how I was dealing with it. My answer was that I was going to allow myself to feel hurt and also examine the origin of the comment and see if there was learning there for the critic as well as the criticized. Maybe there are improvements I can make AND an unproductive need for things to be a certain way. It can be both. A paradoxical unity.
What did it get you? People often ask “what did it get you?” There’s a real desire at work for some kind of tangible output from every activity, something you can hold in your hand. A friend of mine calls it “this for that”, you did this and you got that. And an accounting of action to result. When people go to training or a conference, their boss often demands that “if we invest in this you need to bring back something we can use.” When we hold collaborative workshops, I notice that the bosses always want some action items to come out of it. They are surprised when I tell them that the outcome was people sharing ideas, there are no action items. When work is done, it is forgotten, that’s why it lasts forever.
Evolve past the zero-sum game. Most of our work lives are a zero-sum game. Because ranking is so important at work, if we win, someone else loses. My award is only meaningful because no one else got one. I’ve heard the comparison to trees, trees are productive for the good of the ecosystem. What if our work was the same. We work not to be better but to be harmonic? What if we did as the Tao suggests and work but not for rewards, compete but for results?
What does this verse inspire in you?