“The best athlete wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.
All of them embody the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to complete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
For some people, competition carries a pejorative connotation, but the word literally means “to strive together.” Usually we understand it in zero-sum terms: there are winners and losers in athletics, war, business, and politics.
But to be an enlightened player in these arenas—to truly play—means to play the game without attachment to the outcome. To win is to play well, to play well is respect and challenge and dance with your opponent.
In dance, there is a “lead” and a “follow.” But anyone who has danced knows that these roles are a gross simplification of actual dancing. The lead can only lead well if he follows his partner, if he is receptive and responsive to the subtle shifts in her body, and the follow can only follow well if she if she guides offers the flexibility to be led. The dance only works, in short, if the lead and the follow are playing lead and follow, not identified with leading and following. “Lead” and “follow” are no more real than you and me. They are words that point to the strange energy that is us and moves us and moves between us all that we call the Dao.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”