When we waste our time trying to improve things we distance ourselves from the natural course. We repeatedly act in ways that are (according to the Taoists) unnatural and waste our bodies and minds doing so. So, why do we this? Well, it has a lot to do with how we attribute value to certain things. For example, when we’re averse to poverty, but desire money and fame, and when we’re averse to being lonely but desire to be part of something. So we try to eradicate the former, and increase the latter, while the latter cannot exist without the former. Also, we think that it’s necessary to conform and alter nature based on certain belief systems. We try to better the world, while the results of our interventions are kind of questionable. Now, how can we bring these ancient theories into the modern world? According to Taoist thinking, in what ways do we, modern humans, ‘try’, while our efforts only leave us with peanuts in the end? Let’s explore some examples of how we ‘try’, using the ancient Taoist scriptures the Tao Te Ching and the Zhuangzi. The first one is… Trying to improve the world Alan Watts, who was a fervent scholar of Taoism, once pointed out that the goodie-goodies of society are the biggest troublemakers. Their ‘must-save-the-world’ attitude often disrupts the natural course, simply because they seek to enforce man-made ideas of what’s good and evil. An example is ‘communism’ which originally sprouted from a desire to change humanity for the better, based on equality and honest distribution of goods. However, apart from the discussion if this approach is natural or not: the ways in which the communists spread their ideology were absolutely brutal. In the Zhuangzi, we find a story about a man named Yen Hui, who asked Confucius for permission to travel to the country of Wei, after he heard that it’s ruled by an incompetent ruler. Yen Hui wanted to use everything he learned about governance, to improve the country of Wei. Confucius, however, discouraged him to do so. Not only because Wei’s highly disagreeable leader probably wouldn’t listen, but also because people, in general, don’t like outsiders coming in, telling what’s better for them from a place of moral supremacy. As Confucius stated and I quote: “If you do not understand men’s minds, but instead appear before a tyrant and force him to listen to sermons on benevolence and righteousness, measures and standards – this is often simply using other men’s bad points to parade your own excellence.” End quote. We could ask ourselves: in what way is using other people’s faults to create a nice role for ourselves, genuine virtue? That’s probably why so-called ‘social justice warriors’ are so hated. We won’t improve a situation by one-sidedly demonizing groups while placing ourselves on the moral high ground. This only creates more division, more tension, and will unlikely change things for the better in a sustainable manner. As Lao Tzu puts it in the Tao Te Ching, and I quote: Do you want to rule the planet and control it? I don’t think it can ever be done. The world may be a sacred vessel and it can’t be controlled. You will only make it worse if you are trying . It may slip through your fingers and disappear. End quote. Now, the second one is… Trying to be happy No matter if it’s the pursuit of money, status, fame, power, or knowledge; these ongoing efforts to be happy are the reason why we aren’t. We think that we’re happy when we’ve got a million dollars in the bank or when we finally published that book or when our YouTube channels have a 100k subscribers, but this is hardly the case. Sure, we enjoy some momentary pleasure, but that’s not happiness according to the Taoists. Moreover, by this pursuit, we exhaust our bodies and minds, while, tragically, never achieving what we’re looking for.