Tardiness and the Tao


Derek, I have a friend who is always late. He studies the Tao and says he is only following his nature. For him, rushing to be on time is going against the flow and completely unnecessary. I have a feeling there is something wrong with his reasoning, but it does sound pretty convincing. What do you think?


I had a friend like that too. He used to meditate first thing in the morning, and he would always say: “If I’m late to a meeting, then I’m going to be even later, because before I attend a meeting with others I must hold a meeting with myself.”

The problem was that he had a partial understanding of the Tao which led him astray, and the same is true of your friend. Usually, people who think as they do are highly intelligent, but their intelligence can work against them and keep them from seeing the issue clearly.

When you are alone and your actions affect no one else, the Tao that is present revolves around you. It is all about solitude, reflection, and introspection. If you break a promise to yourself, it is no one else’s business. You have every freedom to follow any impulse as you see fit.

As soon as another person comes into the picture, the Tao is no longer solitary. It immediately changes into the Tao as depicted in the yin and yang symbol, where the curve in the middle means dynamic interaction – the exchange of energy between two parties.

From experience and observation, ancient sages knew that such interactions could be constructive or destructive, harmonious or chaotic. They identified one crucial factor that towered above all others in making the difference: respect. If mutual respect was present in an interaction, harmony would prevail. If not, then chaos reigned, thereby producing discomfort, anger – sometimes even bickering and escalating conflict.

Now you can see what is really going on. Your friend understands the solitary Tao but not the interacting Tao. He applies the rules governing the former to the latter. By being tardy, he demonstrates a lack of regard for the other person’s time and thinks nothing of wasting it. This injects disrespect into the energy exchange, and turns a potentially constructive harmony into something negative and destructive.

This is why people who really understand the Tao always make an honest effort to be punctual. Those who do not will always use the Tao as a justification for their inconsiderate behavior. You may not be able to articulate your reasons for disagreeing with your friend, but your feeling is correct. You are aligned with the Tao deep within, and this alignment has not been twisted by sophistry. Cherish your inner voice and always listen to it – it is the truest master of all.

Derek Lin
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