An important quality in Chinese philosophy is the ability to yield. Think of the image of water – soft and ungraspable, it shapes itself to whatever terrain it is in. When water flows down a hillside and there is an obstacle in its path, it simply flows around it and carries on with its course. The same is true with people: in Chinese thought, the ability to yield, to work with people and events and carry on unperturbed when having to accommodate something unexpected, is seen as a very high quality in a person.
We are familiar in the West with sayings such as “going with the flow”, but the Chinese concept is much deeper than that. It is one thing to “go with the flow” when you miss a bus and have to wait a few minutes for the next one, but quite another when you are having a disagreement with someone – how difficult is it to yield then?
Much has been written in our culture about the need for people to assert themselves and show their individuality; Chinese philosophy thinks it is equally valuable for people to learn to live harmoniously with others around them. Winning an argument for the sake of it has never made anyone happy, whereas making sure that we live in a peaceful environment is a step in that direction.
Isn’t this a bit like being a pushover?
No! There is a significant difference. To be able to truly yield, a person must be grounded in themselves and aware of what is important to them. They can then make the decision to yield, when they find that this would overall be more beneficial than fighting over the exact issue at hand. This is quite different from wanting to disagree with someone but not doing it because of fear or nervousness. I sometimes recommend practising yielding to people who have an issue with low confidence, and it can come as a significant relief to them that they do not have to assert themselves every time they talk to someone.
Isn’t this a bit lazy?
Again, no! It is quite amazing how much time and energy may be wasted by arguments over insignificant or possibly petty issues. It can also cause significant stress, potentially leading to various health problems. Yielding and not having these arguments is not lazy, it is actually a very sensible thing to do!
The time and energy freed up by yielding will enable you to dedicate yourself more strongly to things that do actually matter in life and that are worth fighting for. Again, let’s take the image of water: primarily it is soft and yielding, yet occasionally it is supremely powerful, as in the image of a waterfall or a tidal wave. The challenge we all face is to develop the clarity of mind so we know when it is wise to yield, and when it is wise to stand our ground.