Profit v. Usefulness

by Frank Dobner

Growing up in western society, nearly most of our “education” and upbringing is about teaching us how to be of value to society. We learn to read, write and do math so that we can get a job. We get a job so that we can gain some type of salary or pay. Accordingly we spend many years of our lives in formal education, self-improvement, working, and many more years talking about these things long after we’ve finished doing them.Very little of this education is dedicated to bringing a real peace of mind to our experience. Most of the work, school, and training is about how to get more and more money. The money or job or whatever does not really make you feel very peaceful…at least not for very long. Once you get one thing, you quickly get dissatisfied and want another thing. Sometimes, it actually gets painful to get something new because the satisfaction dies so quickly after the peak of anticipation in obtaining it. None of this stuff is really very “useful.”

When I talk about useful, I mean how much inner value does it give you for long extended periods of time? As time goes by, things just don’t impress me very much and for many people I know, they feel the same way. It is true, that I have always associated with some very unique and interesting people. So it is very possible, that the people I know are not like most people. But I think at some level everyone is like this.

The following is chapter 11 from the Tao Te Ching and is a very good explanation of exactly what I am trying to say.


Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;

It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there;

Usefulness from what is not there.

The above passage is a very clean way of saying that all of the stuff that we want, all the things you “need”, and all of the activities that you “must” do are what keeps you busy. But the question is, does all of that contain the peace of mind that it is intended to contain.

I am thinking that one way that I do things now that is different than before, is that I decide:

1. Where will my peace of mind come from…the answer is always from within. Usually I need to slow down and get quiet for a while. And then:

2. Decide what are the things, people, events, activities, projects, jobs, money that are going to surround it.

I start from the inside and then think outside. It is a complete reversal of what I have been doing most of my life. I used to run around, and try to grab the things I want by working my ass off or trying to learn something or another. That’s way too much work for me. Actually, the truth is that the cost of peace to me is way too much of an expense for the gain of some junk.

The new way for me is to make sure that Usefulness is always greater than Profit.

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