Bend and Be Straight

There’s an ancient Chinese maxim:  “Yield and overcome.  Bend and be straight.” 

It reminds me of something the priest I used to work for would say – I heard it a few times during my first year of parish work.  There would be occasions during staff meetings when we disagreed about something, and the (brief) discussion would end with him telling me to “Be a willow.”  He would then wisely explain how inflexible trees fall down in high wind, but willows bend, and so they survive.  Being more of an immature oak at the time, I always wanted to snap back with something snarky:  “If I bend like a willow, you might squash me flat!” 

But the past decade has taught me a few lessons.  And one is how good it feels to bend with the breeze.  When the breeze becomes a storm, I’m already accustomed to bending.  It doesn’t hurt as much.  And when the storm is over, I stand straight again.

Enjoy the excerpt below from the Tao Te Ching, written in China centuries before the birth of Christ.  Though the words precede him in time, you will hear in them the echo of his voice, and the wisdom of his followers:  “Bend and be straight.” “Be a willow.”  “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new;
Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused.
Therefore the wise embrace the one
And set an example to all.
Not putting on a display,
They shine forth.
Not justifying themselves,
They are distinguished.
Not boasting,
They receive recognition.
Not bragging,
They never falter.
They do not quarrel,
So no one quarrels with them.
Therefore the ancients say, "Yield and overcome."
Is that an empty saying?
Be really whole,
And all things will come to you.  (Tao 22)