Friday, November 20, 2009

Real Life Tao - Too Much

In discussing Verse 33 of the Wen Tzu, I focused on the passages that spoke of profit or seeking an advantage as being adverse to Tao. It's rather easy to see this principle at work in the sphere of economics. It's also easy when we talk of the captains of industry or government leaders. What is far more difficult is when we aim the lens at ourselves to see where we each attempt to profit from the everyday situations in life.

Have you ever been at a gathering and desired a bigger share of the main course or dessert? The host brings out the Thanksgiving turkey or a scrumptious pumpkin pie. If you are an aggressive sort, you can heap upon your plate two or three servings. However, when there are many mouths to feed and you take more than your equal share, it means that others will be forced to split a smaller amount. So, while your belly is stuffed to the gills, others will leave the table hungry.

But it's not just material things in which we seek to take undue advantage. I remember when Della and I were dating; our expectations of the initial phase of our relationship were quite different. In the tradition of the American South, Della expected that she would become the center of my world. She expected -- in some cases, demanded -- that she deserved the vast majority of my attention. The problem with such a demand is that others -- friends, family, work, etc. -- will receive far less than they might expect.

Much to her consternation, I gave somewhat equal attention to her, my mother and my aging grandparents. In fact, there were several dates that either were postponed or canceled outright when my grandparents or mother needed my assistance in some way. This caused a few arguments between us. In time, fortunately, she began to understand that while she had to share me with several other loved ones, it in no way diminished my devotion to our budding relationship.

In its simplest form, any time we take or demand more of something, it generally means that someone else will receive less. It's our way of saying that we believe we are more important or worthy than others and so we deserve more.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.


  1. It isn't really about taking too much: it's more about creating something to give back from taking what you needed to fuel the process.
    Guilt can lead to useless anxiety.
    Better to take what is offered, and by your very nature, give back what you can.
    I may be wrong...

  2. If you take too much at the outset, then you are limiting what others can use. While giving some back is a nice gesture, you wouldn't need to give back if you didn't take too much in the first place!

  3. Actually, I kind of agree with The Crow. Instead of focussing on the amount one takes and the amount one leaves for others, focus on what you do with that which you take, which may be more or less. What you do with it will be a contribution based on your nature: if you are a carpenter, you will make tables and chairs; if you are an apothecary, you will make medicines, if you an artist, art, etc. Guilt is the result of bad conscience.

    (Of course perhaps I misinterpreted The Crow.)

  4. And on the other hand, as long as you are taking just so much as your nature requires, you won't take too much (and no guilt is required for this kind of moderation). For example, if you are a carpenter, you will not take any more wood than is required to make the number of tables and chairs that you and your customers want, and you will not eat significantly more calories than is required to fulfil this task. I think this was the ideal, at least, behind mediaeval economics.


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