When We Are Our Best, We Are Like Children

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 68, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Those three greatest treasures we were talking about yesterday: simplicity, patience, and compassion, are what today’s chapter is all about. They are the embodiment of the virtue of competing without competing. Two days ago, Lao Tzu introduced this virtue when he said of a wise and virtuous person, they compete with no one, and no one can compete with them.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu offers us four examples of persons who embody this virtue of non-competition. But, keep in mind, it isn’t that they don’t love to compete. They just do it in the spirit of play. It is, as if they were children. And, therefore, in harmony with the Tao.

These are people at their very best. The best athlete. The best general. The best businessperson. The best leader.

The best athlete wants their opponent at their very best. It wouldn’t be much of a competition, otherwise. Understand, it isn’t just about winning. It is about being your very best. The best opponent will challenge you to be your very best.

The best general enters the mind of their enemy. Here, remember our second greatest treasure, from yesterday. The best general is patient with their enemy. They want to be in accord with the way things are. The best generals are always anti-war. Is there some way we can be reconciled with our enemy, and avoid unnecessary bloodshed? They are compassionate with themselves; and so, always about reconciling all beings in the world.

The best businessperson serves the communal good. Just as with the best athlete not wanting the competition to be just about winning, for the best businessperson it isn’t just about profits. It was never just about profits. Oh, don’t misunderstand me here. Profits are important. Just like winning is important. But there is something more to the virtue of competing without competing. Their reason for being is a much higher thing. They want what is best for the entire community. And serving the communal good, yes, he said serving, is what makes the best businessperson, the very best.

Finally, we have the example of the best leader. The best leaders follow the will of the people. That means they have to trust us. That the people can’t be trusted is the greatest lie that has been told of us. And, I know many people who believe the lie. But, why are we so untrustworthy? Because they have made us so, by their lack of trust. The best leaders would trust us, and leave us alone. That was one of Lao Tzu’s first instructions to leaders.

But, instead of going off on a rant, I would like to bring this back to the virtue of competing without competing. Of being like children. Of the spirit of play. This is what being in harmony with the Tao is all about. Can we become like innocent children, again? Children (and not just the girls, the boys, too) just want to have fun. We, adults, are the ones which make competition a truly ugly thing. Children embody the virtue of competing without competing. We need to be like children. Let’s play for the sake of play.

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