The Tao Te Ching tells us:
Analyzing others is knowledge.
Knowing yourself is wisdom.
Managing others requires skill.
Mastering yourself takes inner strength.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 33
The Tao lesson of respect is holistic. We must first respect ourselves before we can respect others. And respect is an ongoing process as each day, each interaction, can bring us this lesson on a deeper level.
There are many books, many aps, many websites about leadership. But as the Tao teaches, leadership is a process, a lifelong commitment to self-mastery—and "mastering ourselves takes inner strength."
In the Western world, we are surrounded by machines, clever, ingenious devices that can locate information, navigate for us, even turn our lights and appliances off and on. These machines can perform many functions.
But they remain our instruments and we must be careful not to let them change the way we see ourselves. Computers can multitask, but neuroscience research tells us that human brains cannot. When we try to juggle too many commitments at once, something valuable gets lost in the process. And conscientious people too often fall victim to compulsive work habits, treating themselves like machines, pushing themselves to finish a job while denying themselves vital nourishment, rest, and recreation. This unhealthy paradigm is out of harmony with nature. It is not the way of Tao.
The Tao upholds the wisdom of nature, the vital principle of balance. In my garden, with too much sun and too little water, plants can die of drought. But the opposite is also true: too much shade and too much water are equally unhealthy. And each plant has its own needs, its own sense of balance. Tomatoes need at least six hours of hot sun a day, while more delicate plants will wilt from that much sun.
In the garden of life, you, too, have your own needs for nourishment, rest, and recreation, sunlight and shadow, yin and yang, action and contemplation.
Living the Tao means respecting your own need for balance while respecting the needs of the people around you. Yin and yang, sunlight and shadow, self and other—all part of the dynamic harmony of life.
What can you do to affirm greater balance in your life today?
Some information in this lesson appeared earlier in Dreher, D. (1996). The Tao of Personal Leadership. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Ophira, E., Nass, C. & Wagner, A. D. (2009). Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106: 15583-15587.