Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Tao of Shutting Up

Master Po, from the TV show, Kung Fu.
I read from the Tao Te Ching quite often. One thing that fascinates me in Taoism is the idea of working to escape one's ego-centrism. Tao, for those who don't dabble, is a state of transcendence...the escaping of that which is worldly -- the whole, "in" but not "of" the world thing, to put it simply and to keep this post under four-million words.

I have always had distaste for those who walk around saying: "I have to say what's on my mind. I have to 'get it off my chest'." These statements always seemed, to me, to carry such an inflated sense of self-importance; such a placement of one's own needs before those of everyone else. 

To be clear, though, I am not a believer in total selflessness (after all, even saints are rewarded, in the end). I have said before that one needs to be somewhat egocentric in developing one's own skills and identity if one is to ever really be useful to others...but, I am also not a fan of blustering and blatant self-prioritizing.

Because of this, and because of my dabblings with Taoism -- I see it as a philosophy, not a religion -- I have been working to at least reduce my ego-centrism. As a result, people tend to see me as a bit daft, in certain situations. (This is hopefully because they are more "of" the world than I am, and not because I am just an idiot...)

Just recently, I had a conversation with a superior. I disagreed with numerous things this person said and I think most of his perceptions (regarding what we discussed) are incorrect, especially in his assessment particular professional issues, some of them regarding me, personally.

I listened; said that I understood his perspective, and I said limited things in response. I could have argued all day. I could have passionately "gotten things off my chest." But my logic (my compass through he emotional storms of life) asked: "What purpose will it serve to argue? Who will reap the benefits of an argument here? Will you change this person's mind about anything in the time you have?" By the time I was done thinking this, my emotions had subsided and the meeting was over.

It feels good to let go of such weight, but some are stunned: "Well! What did you say to that?" When one responds with, "Nothing," one can be seen as either crazy or weak. But, to seek not to contend can be a logical choice, can it not?

Walking away from a "fight" is not necessarily cowardice; staying out of an argument can sometimes make one the winner, after all.

Fire rages, but, rage as it may, it cannot burn a pond.

It's just a TV show, I know, but, as a boy and, now, as a man, I took (and take) great pleasure in the wisdom it drew (sometimes loosely, sometimes directly) from Taoism.  Master Po, from Kung Fu, once told "Grasshopper:" "The supple willow does not contend against the storm, yet it survives."



  1. Although some aspects of it haven't aged well, "Kung Fu" is a terrific show, and in retrospect it's amazing that it was ever made, because it actually took Taoism seriously. Sometimes the show would go several episodes without Caine throwing a punch or kicking anybody. That's unthinkable now, at a time when even a whole new generation of female heroes get props only for "kicking butt," lest they seem insufficiently feminist. How rare to see a real depiction of the notion that violence is not the only way to react to a hostile world.

    I recently watched the entire run of "Kung Fu" on late-night cable, and I was surprised to learn that unlike most TV shows of its day, it ended with a remarkable multi-episode story arc that resolved many ongoing plot points. I also couldn't help but notice how many times Caine walks into the same town, with the set altered so it appears to be a different place! But then no one in the early '70s anticipated that a viewer would be watching five episodes a week...

    1. My son and I just watched an episode that built up to Caine fighting another Kung Fu expert. In the end, they never fought, despite the build-up. My son said it was disappointing and I pointed out that it was supposed to be. The whole episode centered around Caine teaching a young boy that fighting was maybe what the heart wanted but that when the mind laid it all out, there was no benefit to the fight. The writers brought the audience along through the boy's learning experience. It was really masterfully done.

      A funny point about the sets. In the first season, the same church building was used in three back-to-back episodes. (The same church you can see in dozens of films and TV shows, including Westworld.) But you are right; they never anticipates on-demand or even home video, so why worry?