Three In The Morning

Between 1991 and 1993, I went through a period of time in which basically all I read were books on Chinese philosophy. From Zen, to Taoism, to books by Bruce Lee (which on first glance are about fighting, but really have a whole other level to them), I read everything I could get my hands on. I have boxes upon boxes of books in the basement ranging from Zen in the Art of Archery, to Zen Driving. I’ve got more of these books than I can count stored down there.

I have been mulling over a presentation that I have to give in a few weeks and have written and rewritten it a million times, trying to figure out how to communicate some ideas while not being sure what the best way to communicate them would be. I have definite ideas about certain things and find myself sometimes being unable to adapt myself to things that do not subscribe exactly to the way I am holding the image in my head. This has been one of my big challenges while moving from a technical role to management. Depending on where certain people are coming from, they may phrase something differently than I have in my head and I will spend more time arguing with them than thinking about the similarities between what they are saying and what I have in my head. The reverse tends to happen as well.

By chance, I picked up a copy of “The Way of Chuang Tzu” that I have had sitting on my bookshelf for over 10 years now and started reading it on the way to Gameworks yesterday with the kids. I came across the following passage called “Three in the Morning”. Since it was so applicable to what I have been struggling with lately, I thought I’d post it up here. This version was pulled from, as for some reason I like the way it is written in this interpretation better than the interpretation I have in my copy of the book.

Here it is, for your meditation and enjoyment:

When you break something up, you create things.
When you create something, you destroy things.
Material things have no creation or destruction.
Ultimately these concepts connect as one.

Only the enlightened know that they connect as one,
So instead of debating this with your preconceptions,
Approach it in an ordinary way.

Those with this ordinary approach, simply apply the idea.
Those who apply it, connect with it.
Those who connect with it, attain it.
This easily attained understanding is not far off.

It all flows naturally.
To attain this state and not even know it,
Is what we would call Tao.
To exhaust your mind trying to unify them,
And not realize that they are the same,
Is what we we would call “three in the morning.”

What is this “three in the morning”?

A man who fed monkeys with chestnuts said to them:
“Three portions in the morning, four in the afternoon.”
All the monkeys got angry.

The man then said:
“Alright, four in the morning and three in the afternoon.”
All the monkeys were pleased.

The food and the quantity had not changed,
And yet resulted in anger and happiness,
All because of the different arrangement.

Therefore the sages incorporate the two concepts,
Don’t even try to debate truth and falsehood,
And maintain the principle of natural balance.
This is what we would call the dual approach.

Whats the lesson here? People are irrational by nature. They may argue with something when phrased one way and agree with it if you just change it enough that it seems like they are benefiting more from the new perspective than they were from the old, because when it all comes down to it, people want to know what is in it for them and want to maximize the benefit they receive.

What the monkeys received overall did not change from one proposal to the next, but they felt like it had.

The hard thing for me is communicating things in a way that non-technical people can understand. I may be communicating something that absolutely has value for a business person, but the benefit gets lost because I’m not talking to them in their language. They can’t see it. At the same time, when they try to communicate value to me, I can’t see it because I am not making an effort to communicate with them from their perspective – I have my own.

But the benefits are the same from both.

This was a really good thing to run into at a perfectly applicable time. I really have to learn to communicate in such a way to get the point across to others, rather than only being able to communicate things in the way I understand them.

Thats the lesson for this weekend.