I am not able to read Chinese really at all. Over the years I have been able to pick up a few characters, and some of them miraculously trigger sounds in me. It makes me happy to know that my mind is still hungry for something. It is not just a regurgitation machine.
So because I can’t read Chinese, I sometimes take pictures of especially beautiful character sets and I send them to friends who might be awake somewhere in the world. And then a few minutes later, or a few days later, an answer comes back. “This means ‘birthday’.” Or “They are celebrating a special kind of tea.”
The lobby of the building where we just opened our office in Beijing is fairly unassuming. An elevator is ahead. A plant. The tiled floor. On the wall right next to the entrance hangs a sign. It is a set of four large characters.
I took a picture and sent them off.
“Ocean contains all rivers,” came back from one friend. “It means inclusion.” From another. “Tolerance is a virtue.” From the third.
The characters contained such a profound thought, wrapped in such a brilliant way, it felt like someone had put this present together and sent it off into the future hundreds of years ago. Who knows, maybe longer?
After a brief search I stumbled upon a whole set of ideas connected to the thought. Lao Tzu wrote: “All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.”
And: “Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them. […]
Because he does not compete,
He does not meet competition.”
Such a thought comes from a place of assumed abundance. It is such a beautiful motto to have. And variations of it exist in other cultures too. (Those who love the Bible can check Ecclesiastes 1:7) It makes such perfect sense too. Being inclusive brings something. It increases the abundance. It increases variety, it brings more and creates more. It is the emptiness and the openness, the gravity or attraction that creates more. To welcome an influence, is enriching.
And one does not need to worry about temporary loss, as over time, in an abundant universe, more will return. And it is actually good for ideas and everything else to evaporate, as this opens a process that invites more over time.
That’s if we see the world as one that is abundant, of course, and if we see the universe as a large source of so much more to come. And if we see the generations after us not just as inheritors of what we deliver, but as growers, transforming force towards something more amazing than we can fathom now.
I could continue here now, and start to describe the opposite way of seeing the world. In the current issue of the New York Times Magazine Adam Davidson wrote a nice little piece about the so called “rentier economics”, the zero sum game of those who make “deals” in systems defined by scarcity.
If instead of an ocean, one imagines the opposite of it, some fascinating things happen; and if taken to the extreme, not very sustainable or maybe healthy.
The world is obviously constantly changing. And there are more of us than ever, and perhaps more than the planet can actually handle. But if a few more adopted a more liquid and more open way of thinking, we might discover some rather fascinating new influences and ideas.
Not all will be healthy or good, of course. But in the larger context of things, and over a longer period of time, the figurative ocean welcomes and grows; and it eventually also accepts those who vehemently deny its existence.