Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.
Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 79, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
What If I Fail?
With just three chapters left, in our latest cycle through the Tao Te Ching, it is a good thing that Lao Tzu addresses failure. He is wanting to encourage us. Yes, we are bound to fail, from time to time, in following Lao Tzu’s teachings. But, failure doesn’t have to be a troublesome thing. It can be an opportunity.
Just a few chapters ago, I recounted my own failure. And, Lao Tzu has said, again and again, when we fail, when we make a mistake, or are bad, the Tao is a refuge for us.
The opportunity in failure is one where we can stop and take a step back. It is time to reevaluate things. For me, just a few days ago, it was a time to realize I have become a bit hard and inflexible. Not the soft and supple person I want to be. Finding myself upset and bothered by a minor inconvenience, someone stopping me and asking the time, was a wake-up call. And, there is no one, beyond myself, for whom I could pin the blame.
How silly, really, to try and deflect. To point out others’ faults. How easily we do it, though. Maybe out of embarrassment, but more because we don’t want the burden of blame. Yet, Lao Tzu is right, of course. Once you start down that road, there is no end to the blame.
What we should do instead, when we realize we have made a mistake, is to admit it, and correct it.
Lao Tzu illustrates this, in today’s chapter, by talking about contractual duties. From ancient times, there have always been contracts made between parties. A list of obligations to perform, conditions to be met. Usually, these contracts have two sides, and both parties have obligations or duties to perform.
That is what Lao Tzu is describing in the second stanza of today’s verse. A wise and virtuous person will fulfill their own obligations, and correct their own mistakes; doing what they need to do, without making any demands on the other party.
That might not sound fair. But, do we really want to be the type of person who exacts “fairness”, or the person who lets the Tao adjust the ledgers in the end? Excess and deficiency being adjusted, until there is perfect balance.
Remember, failure is an opportunity. It is an opportunity for you to do the right thing. To make things right, on your end. Which, by the way, is the only end you have any control of, anyway.
We are so close to the end of our journey through the Tao Te Ching. Now is not the time to be trying to control what others do. Using force and dominating are never in harmony with the Tao.