We make choices every day. Some of those choices are “defining”. Every interaction we have with someone else becomes a precedent for future interactions. When these are negative, or harmful to the other person, in some part we are also hurt.
We can try to feel neutral, or impartial, but we cannot separate ourselves from our choices.
Imagine a sudden summer downpour. The water rushes over the dirt, cutting channels as the torrential flow makes its way across the ground. When the next rain comes, the water will naturally flow through those channels. The past course taken by the water influences the future course of the water.
Our choices carve channels in the landscape of how we act. They define how we relate to others, both now and down the road. If we choose to take revenge, or simply give someone “payback” for a wrong committed against us, we are creating channels of negative responses that will guide our subsequent choices. The more often we follow those destructive paths, the more predisposed we become to following them.
Keep this awareness in mind. Make positive choices that strengthen yourself and if possible everyone else. It doesn’t matter if someone else hurt you. There is nothing to gain from doing the same. There is no such thing as “getting even”. All this accomplishes is hurting yourself more, and setting yourself up to follow those “channels” naturally in the future.
That can even lead to making a choice that is hurtful to someone you didn’t intend to hurt.
Dualism is key to wei wu wei.
In the Daodejing we encounter a concept known as wei wu wei, or “action without action”. This is seemingly a paradox. How can you do something without doing something? The confusion arises from our concept of opposites in the West. We see them as distinctly different. A central theme in Taoism is philosophical duality. This means that opposites are seen as two parts of a whole, and not separate, opposing states.
Understanding this begins with the idea that opposites create and depend upon each other:
When the people of the world all know beauty as beauty,
there arises the recognition of ugliness.
When they all know the good as good,
there arises the recognition of bad.
Therefore being and non-being produce each other;
difficult and easy complete each other;
long and short contrast each other;
high and low distinguish each other;
sound and voice harmonize with each other;
beginning and end follow each other.
Sanderson Beck Translation
This coupled view of all things is a key tenet in Taoism. The idea behind wei wu wei is to do without imposing on the natural process. A common example is water. A flowing river carves its way through earth and rock, but it does so without intent. The path it creates is the most efficient and natural.
Do your work, but don’t be defined by your expectations of it.
One of our greatest sources of disappointment is unmet expectations. Yes, anticipation of an outcome or desire for a certain response has it’s place, primarily in the context of keeping us out of danger. Yet we are consumed with useless expectations as well: I want my ball team to win, I want my project to be a huge success, I want that person to like me.
These expectations cause us to attempt exerting control of situations that are not entirely within our means of control. Wearing a lucky hat will not help your favorite team; however, doing so adds a perceived personal connection to the win…or the loss. For most of us, this type of disappointment is trivial, but other similar expectations can cause lasting problems.