Fame or integrity; which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?
If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.
Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Have you ever noticed when people are asked questions that, instead of answering the questions, they respond to a whole different set of questions that weren’t even asked? I was thinking about that today as I was reading through this list of rhetorical questions that Lao Tzu poses to us in today’s chapter. He asks us, of fame and integrity, which is more important? And, of money and happiness, which is more valuable?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t much want to answer those questions. I want to make up entirely different questions: Can I have both fame and integrity? If not, why not? Can I have both money and happiness? Do I really have to choose one or the other?
As you can see, I have successfully dodged his questions. Or have I? Because I have chosen to go down this road, let’s see where it takes me. For the sake of argument allow me to have Lao Tzu agree with my questions. Sure, Chuck. You can have both fame and integrity. You can have both money and happiness. Now, have you succeeded? Or have you failed? And which is more destructive?
And I can see that my dodge hasn’t helped me at all. I still land exactly in the same predicament. Because Lao Tzu isn’t asking us to choose fame or integrity. And he isn’t asking to choose money or happiness. He is looking for answers to his questions. Even if I could have it all, what have I truly gained?
And the answer is, not much. How much importance do you put on fame? How about integrity? How much value do you ascribe to money? What price would you be willing to pay for happiness?
Now he has us thinking. Doubting. And that isn’t such a bad place to be. Are we really being asked to choose between success and failure? No. But it may be very difficult to quantify which would be more destructive.
I feel absolutely devastated by his questions. That is why I tried to dodge them in the first place. And now he has me right where he wants me.
Chuck, if you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled. This kind of puts the question of success and failure in a whole different light. True fulfillment isn’t something that comes from outside of me. It isn’t dependent on other people and what they say or do. It isn’t dependent on outward circumstances, at all. If I am going to be truly fulfilled, it has to come from within myself.
Okay, so far, so good. But what about happiness? Chuck, if your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. This is important, guys. And not just the part about the money, either. I mean, sure, we have heard that about money not buying happiness, before. Nothing new here. But that wasn’t all he said. He didn’t say I would never be happy. He said I would never be happy with myself.
The goal isn’t happiness. It is happiness with yourself. That is what Lao Tzu is trying to get across to us today. Do I think my happiness depends on money, on people, on circumstances, on fame? I could have all of that and not be happy with myself. And I just don’t like the sounds of that word never. If my happiness depends on anything outside of me, I will never be happy with myself.
So, let’s take a look deep inside ourselves. Because that is the only place that true happiness is going to be found. I simply must choose to be content with what I already have. Getting more will never really satisfy. Be content with what you have.
And, I need to rejoice in the way things are. There that phrase is again. The way things are. Are we chasing after an illusion? Or are we going to see reality for what it really is? The eternal reality is actually something in which we can, indeed, rejoice. And there is something quite interesting about rejoicing. Once you start, it is very hard to ever stop. And why would you want to?
When you realize (this is reality) there is nothing lacking (that is the illusion) the whole world belongs to you.