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.
Harmony is found in balance
Here are some things we can do in our lives to help live in harmony with others:
Do not express favoritism or define one person or group as better than another.
By choosing to promote a particular viewpoint or value system, we create a self-defeating divisiveness. This undermines efforts to build community and fosters a sense of injustice. It causes some to fight to gain favor and others to struggle against the perceived unfairness.
Do not prize scarce objects or properties.
When things are highly valued, it arouses greed. When there is little value placed on things, there is little desire to have them. Place value in harmony above the value of any possession and greed can never rob you of anything but trinkets.
Do not glorify fame, power and social status.
Be inclusive of all people, not just those people who look and act like you. Power means nothing if nobody recognizes it. Fame leads to isolation, because you become separated from society. Social status is just a title that doesn’t denote character. Without these things, people work together.
Be humble and value the necessities of others.
Within humility, we find contentment. Those without it are never satisfied, always needing recognition. If you have food and clothing, then help others who do not. Compassion promotes harmony.
Live simple. Find harmony. Be healthy.
Complexities in our lives lead to stress. Stress degrades our health, happiness and harmony. Examine your life and let go of those things you don’t need. I’m not saying you must throw away your possessions. Just let go of your need for them. I’m not saying to push complicated people out of your life, just help them as directly as you can and don’t try to take their problems as your own.