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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 68, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Be the Best You Can Be, Be Like Children
Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu introduced the practice of competing without competing, speaking directly to would-be leaders. He said if you compete with no one, no one can compete with you. Yesterday, he boiled down his teachings to just three things: Simplicity, Patience, and Compassion. And, insisting they are our three greatest treasures, he told us to guard them well. In today’s chapter, he returns to talking about the virtue of non-competition. If we want to guard and preserve our three greatest treasures, we must learn how to practice competing without competing.
Yes, Lao Tzu is still speaking to would-be leaders. But these would-be leaders are to be found in all walks of life, not just within the political realm. If you embody the virtue of non-competition, you will be the best you can be.
Take, for example, the best athlete. They want to win, obviously. Why else are they competing, but to win? But, the best athletes always want something more than just to win. They want their opponents to be at their best.
Or, the best general. The best ones are able to enter the mind of their enemies.
The best businesspersons are the ones who serve the good of their community.
The best leaders follow the will of the people. This is something Lao Tzu said of leaders two chapters ago. If you want to govern the people, place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, learn how to follow them.
This virtue of non-competition doesn’t mean you don’t love to compete. Of course, you love to compete. It is fun. The virtue of competing without competing is that you do it in the spirit of play, like children.
Children, as you have no doubt gathered, are a go to metaphor for Lao Tzu to demonstrate harmony with the Tao in action. Children love to play. And, they love to compete, as long as it isn’t spoiled for them by adults with their great expectations.
So, to sum things up, be like children; learn to love to play, again. Then, you will be in harmony with the Tao. And, those three treasures, Lao Tzu was talking about yesterday, will be preserved.