One of Robber Chih's followers once asked Chih, "Does the thief too have a Way?"Chuang Tzu writes quite a bit about the importance of mastery of skill. The way he sees it is that, if something is worth doing, then its worth doing well! It doesn't matter what skill we might refer to. If you happen to be a janitor, lawyer, painter or thief, you should endeavor to become skilled in your chosen profession or avocation.
Chih replied, "How could he get anywhere if he didn't have a Way? Making shrewd guesses as to how much booty is stashed away in the room is sageliness; being the first one in is bravery; being the last one out is righteousness; knowing whether the job can be pulled off or not is wisdom; dividing up the loot fairly is benevolence. No one in the world ever succeeded in becoming a great thief if he didn't have all five!"
From this we can see that the good man must acquire the Way of the sage before he can distinguish himself, and Robber Chih must acquire the Way of the sage before he can practice his profession. But good men in the world are few and bad men many, so in fact the sage brings little benefit to the world, but much harm.
~ from Chapter 10, Burton Watson translation ~
However, just because someone is good at their profession or avocation, this does not mean that their skills are used for the good of all concerned!
Just take a look at our own society. We lionize the rich and powerful. We look up to many of them. We often strive to be like them. We look at all they've obtained and, unfortunately, we don't scrutinize how they got to where they are.
In far too many cases, people get to the top by stepping on others. They relentlessly pursue their goals by crushing or sweeping aside anyone or thing that gets in their way. They have honed their skills and they ruthlessly apply them.
In the end, mastery of skill is only one part of the equation. If a person lacks virtue -- driven by unquenchable desire -- then they can't follow in the path of Tao.
To read more musings about the Zhuangzi, you can visit the index page for this ongoing series.