The Lagging Sheep

December 8, 2011 at 12:44 am Leave a comment

I recently did the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. This is a detailed questionnaire that reveals 24 different strengths rated from your strongest down to your weakest. Martin Seligman, who helped devise the survey, says that if you lived your life according to your top strengths that everything you did would be accomplished with ease and pleasure. One  example he gives is of one of his students who worked (unhappily) as a bagger in a supermarket. However, once she used her prime strength – Social Intelligence – in her work, she had a much better time of it. She turned the bagging of groceries into the high point of many a shopper’s day.  You can take the test at http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/tests/SameAnswers_t.aspx?id=310

There’s a story of Chuang Tsu’s which also looks at strengths and weaknesses, but unlike Martin Seligman’s point of using your strengths, Chuang Tsu recommends working on your weaknesses. Here is the story which I called The Lagging Sheep in my book, The Spiritual Teachings of The Tao:

Tien Kai Chih was talking with Duke Wei of Chou, who asked him, “I understand your Master Chu Hsien has studied life. What has he taught you about it?”

Tien Kai Chih replied, “While I am busy sweeping his courtyard, how can I hear my master’s teaching?”

Duke Wei said, ”Don’t evade the question, Mr. Tien. I’m very interested in what you’ve learned.”

Kai Chih said, ”I’ve heard my master say ‘One who skilfully nourishes life is like a shepherd, who rounds up the sheep that lag behind.’”

“What did he mean?”, asked the Duke.

Kai Chih replied, “In Lu there was a man named Shan Pao, who lived in the wilderness, and drank only water. He didn’t share anyone’s work or the benefits from it. Though he was seventy years old, he still had the complexion of a child. Unfortunately he encountered a fierce tiger, who killed him.

There was another man called Chang Yi, who spent all his time consorting with the wealthy and powerful, paying his respects. When he was only forty, he came down with a fever and died.

Of these two men, Shan Pao nourished his inner self, and a tiger attacked his outer, while Chang Yi nourished his outer self, and disease attacked his inner. According to my master both of them neglected to round up their lagging sheep.”

Maybe Chuang Tsu would say that your strengths will look after themselves, whereas your weaknesses need some attention. Keeping them in balance may be the way to have a centred approach to life.

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