He who stands on tiptoe does not stand (firm); he who strains his strides does not walk (well); he who reveals himself is not luminous; he who justifies himself is not far-famed; he who boasts of himself is not given credit; he who prides himself is not chief among men. These in the eyes of Tao are called “the dregs and tumors of Virtue,” which are things of disgust. Therefore the man of Tao spurns them.
(Tao Teh King 24)
The Feng and English translation is a bit more on target: “He who stands on tiptoe is not steady. He who strides cannot maintain the pace. He who makes a show is not enlightened. He who is self-righteous is not respected. He who boasts achieves nothing. He who brags will not endure. According to followers of the Tao, ‘These are extra food and unnecessary luggage.’ They do not bring happiness. Therefore followers of the Tao avoid them.”
He who stands on tiptoe is not steady.
Those who try to overreach themselves and try to appear to others as much more than they really are, are always uncertain, in flux and unbalanced. In time they fall over, such is the folly of the ego. But those who stand firmly on the ground with feet secure, will be certain, steady and balanced, able to cope with any forces that might seek to push them over. Honesty with themselves and others is an essential character of the wise. Truth in living is as important as truth in speech.
He who strides cannot maintain the pace.
Here again we have the folly of those that overextend themselves in the hope of gaining the admiration of others for qualities they do not really have. Such persons may maintain a good appearance for a short while but soon they stumble and fall, making their real status clear to all.
He who makes a show is not enlightened.
Legge: “He who displays himself does not shine.” In Greek there is a term: agia phania, “holy show.” In religion this takes many forms of outer display, and the same is true of “show” in any area of life. The very fact that a person must make a show of something is an indication of his lacking it. For a show is an appearance only, not a reality. Many people are busy starring in the theater of life, but not really living at all since they are so absorbed in being a lie.
He who is self-righteous is not respected.
Legge: “He who asserts his own views is not distinguished.” Those who let the world know how good or intelligent, or capable, or whatever they are, are not such at all. Those who display themselves or seek to force themselves and their ways and ideas on others are only mirages, not real people. They are themselves lies.
He who boasts achieves nothing.
Legge: “He who vaunts himself does not find his merit acknowledged.” I think we all know braggarts who exemplify the old adage: “The empty wagon rattles the most.” Nothing ever comes of them since all their energy is spent in claiming to be something rather than really being it. Their boasting is a dead-end. Such people end up with nothing but themselves: a pitiful reward, indeed.
He who brags will not endure.
Legge: “He who is self-conceited has no superiority allowed to him.” Arrogance, pride and boasting are sure pathways to loss and ruin. I knew a very wise old man who, when he saw such persons, would laugh and say: “They are headed for the ash-heap, and it won’t be long now.” Many years of intelligent observation had given him that insight, and now over fifty years after his sharing that with me, I can say it is my observation, too. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18), is as true as the day it was first spoken.
According to followers of the Tao, “These are extra food and unnecessary luggage.” They do not bring happiness. Therefore followers of the Tao avoid them.
Legge: “Such conditions, viewed from the standpoint of the Tao, are like remnants of food, or a tumor on the body, which all dislike. Hence those who pursue (the course) of the Tao do not adopt and allow them.” Let us turn from all these follies and seek the Tao in all things and in ourselves.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: The Four Eternal Models