Tao Te Ching —
The Classic about Ways And Instances
(Translated, with comments, by William P. Coleman)
The best goodness is like water.
It’s good because it benefits everything but doesn’t contend.
It comes to rest in many people because it settles in the lowest place
—in this, it resembles the ways.
A place to live is good in its location;
a heart is good in its depth.
A relationship is good in its kindness.
A government is good in its justice.
A service is good when done ably.
An action is good in its timing.
So, by not contending, be without fault.
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I find the water metaphor particularly lovely and revealing. Pour water on a stony surface, and it gets past the stones and finds its way through to the lowest places.
Recognizing the objective reality of the situations you work in does not imply weakness; and, conversely, commitment to your imperatives does not imply crashing through the people and objects around you. You can be sensitive and also true to yourself.
It can happen naturally — without effort, because it simply goes along with what’s really there, in you and in the world.
My translation of the last part differs, on the surface, from Lin Yutang’s. I don’t know what to say: I’m just reporting what I see in the Chinese words. But there’s an important commonality: goodness is different in different situations.
For comparison, I’m including the translation by Lin Yutang, which I always love and respect, even when I disagree:
The best of men is like water;
Water benefits all things
And does not compete with them.
It dwells in (the lowly) places that all disdain –
Wherein it comes near to the Tao.
In his dwelling, (the Sage) loves the (lowly) earth;
In his heart, he loves what is profound;
In his relations with others, he loves kindness;
In his words, he loves sincerity;
In government, he loves peace;
In business affairs, he loves ability;
In his actions, he loves choosing the right time.
It is because he does not contend
That he is without reproach.