The Virtue of Minding My Own Business

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)

The Virtue of Minding My Own Business

One of the many things I love about philosophical Taoism is that it offers, what I consider, practical advice on how to be content. If we aren’t content, it is because we don’t know when enough is enough. I talked yesterday about eating way too much, and suffering the obvious results of excess. I was too full. I was bloated. I was miserable. It is hard to be content when you have gotten yourself into such a state. I knew exactly why I was in such a state. And, I have, without a doubt, learned my lesson; until the next time I fail to know when enough is enough (note to self, half-orders are sufficient).

It really is simple. We (I) just make it difficult. That difficulty, that struggle, is my segue into today’s chapter.

Two chapters ago Lao Tzu talked about the Master. In Stephen Mitchell’s translation Lao Tzu said, “Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.” In Robert Brookes’ translation Lao Tzu said, “Because he does not contend, the world is not able to resist him. And, I especially like Red Pine’s translation: “Because they don’t struggle, no one can struggle against them.”

Which leads me to ask the question, “Why are we (why am I) struggling? If I wasn’t struggling, if I wasn’t contending, if I wasn’t competing, who could struggle, resist, or compete with me?

Onward to today’s chapter, where Stephen Mitchell embraces the virtue of non-competition. What Robert Brookes calls the virtue of non-contending. And Red Pine (I dearly love this one), “the virtue of non-aggression.”

What is the virtue of non-aggression? If you don’t commit acts of aggression against others, as a rule, they won’t commit acts of aggression against you. Now, obviously I know there are exceptions to that rule. Please don’t flood my inbox with all the times you were just minding your own business and someone came up and punched you in the face. I probably won’t believe you. But, even if you had someone commit an act of aggression against you, when you were behaving peacefully, and non-aggressively, that is still an exception, and not the rule.

The reason I preach non-aggression, non-intervention, not interfering, not using force, or trying to control, is because the rule is the rule, in spite of a few exceptions which change nothing. Lao Tzu calls it the way things are. It is the way things are. Violence, however well-intentioned it might be, always rebounds on the one who is violent. All force has its counter-force. If someone comes up and punches you in the face. You either had it coming, or someone really thought you did. That, of course, doesn’t preclude your right to respond to force with your very own counter-force. I won’t begin to suggest you don’t have the right to defend yourself. Just keep in mind that violence, even justified retaliatory violence, has a way of rebounding. You might want to consider whether the struggle is worth it.

Why struggle, why contend, why compete?

The rule is still the rule. When you contend with no one, no one can contend with you. Resistance really is futile.

So, I was reading through the various commentaries included with Red Pine’s translation, today. I was still thinking of the metaphor of fullness vs emptiness. And, I came across this timely tidbit of advice for anyone wanting to not struggle, not contend, not compete.

KUMARAJIVA says, “Empty your body and mind. No one can fight against nothing.”

This emptying of body and mind, relates to both our actions and our thoughts. If we do nothing, say nothing, think nothing, there will be nothing, no grounds, for conflict.

The virtue of minding my own business never made more sense to me.

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