The virtue of being useless

A certain carpenter was traveling with his helper when they came to a town where a giant oak tree filled the square. It was huge, with many limbs spreading out, and its shade covered the entire square. The helper was amazed at the potential lumber contained in this one tree but the carpenter passed it by with a mere glance.

When his helper asked him why he had passed up such a magnificent specimen the carpenter replied that he could see at once that the great oak’s branches were useless to him. “They are so hard,” he said, “that were I to take my ax to them it would split. The wood is so heavy that a boat made of it would sink. The branches themselves are so gnarled and twisted they cannot be made into planks. If I tried to fashion house beams with it they would collapse. If I made a coffin from it you would not be able to fit someone inside. Altogether it is a completely useless tree.”

The carpenter added, “And that is the secret of its long life.”

The above was told by the great Tao philosopher Chuang Tzu (399 – 295 BC).