Friday, August 26, 2016

Whack-a mole: A fundamental look at life.

The doctor whacking the moles of illness.
“Do easy things before they become too hard.
Difficult problems are best solved while they are easy.
Great projects are best started while they are small.
The Master never takes on more than she can handle,
which means that she leaves nothing undone.

When an affirmation is given too lightly,
keep your eyes open for trouble ahead.
When something seems too easy,
difficulty is hiding in the details.
The master expects great difficulty,
so the task is always easier than planned.”

These words, from Chapter 63 of the Tao Te Ching were written, by the Chinese sage Lao Tzu during the late 4th century BCE. The Tao Te Ching is overflowing with wisdom; some deep and profound and some every-day practical.

There are many renditions of this essential notion (e.g., addressing life’s work with efficiency⎯doing what is easy and recognizing the task will eventually become difficult). Others have expressed the same thought in slightly different ways, such as “Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”⎯Benjamin Franklin; or this from the Bible, “Don’t put it off; do it now! Don’t rest until you do.”⎯Proverbs 6:4. True wisdom doesn’t change but ways of expression it does, making it more applicable to contemporary challenges. To illustrate this evolving notion I’ve chosen to cast Lao Tzu’s wisdom into the modern game of Whack-a mole.

So let’s lay out the game and the adaptation. The game involves whacking a make believe mole with a hammer so that he is knocked underground. But when he is whacked he just pops up again out of another hole. The challenge is to keep the mole underground as much as possible in a given period of time. That’s the game.

Now the adaptation: Pretend the mole represents health. So long as the mole is underground, health is maintained. Coming up through a hole means problems are emerging which require doctor visits. When we are young our physical nature is more vibrant and becomes less so as we age. In the adapted game, the number of holes through which the mole can emerge increases as we age thus requiring more visits to different doctors, who then “whack” the problem, driving the mole beneath the surface, where “health” exists. But doctors not only solve problems they create them, which necessitates visits to other doctors who do the same thing. I think you may see the analogy between the game and life.

While we’re young, health can be maintained much easier, by taking care of ourselves. But alas, when we are young we think we’ll live forever and besides health is more normal. If we do exercise wisdom, then we will have complied with the wisdom of Lao Tzu. If not then problems begin to multiply and cascade as we age, which then requires more doctor visits (more holes from which the mole can emerge), and oh by the way, as we age we have less energy to fight off the problems of aging, which in many cases becomes THE challenge of life. Eventually the lack of energy results from not doing the easy while we are young and consequently, as aging advances we become consumed with the difficult⎯too many holes, moles, and trips with our heads exposed above ground for doctors to whack.

Of course we could adhere to the Mark Twain version and “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well,” in which case we won’t need to be concerned about difficult tomorrows since tomorrow will come anyway with more moles, more holes and a lot more whacking doctors!
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