We know beauty because there is ugly. We know good because there is evil. Being and not being, having and not having, create each other.
Difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, define each other, just as before and after follow each other.
The dialectic of sound gives voice to music, always transforming “Is” from “was” as the ancestors of “to be”.
The wise, teach without telling, allow without commanding, have without possessing, care without claiming.
In this way we harvest eternal importance because we never announce it.
Though in many ways this philosophy is fairly straightforward, there is a hidden side to this verse that often goes unnoticed. Before I get into it, I will touch lightly on the general side of this verse.
Opposites are given meaning by their counterparts. We would not be able to comprehend such a thing as happiness, unless we know sadness, for in a sense, happiness would not exist without sorrow. Without having an idea of short, there cannot be any perception of what long is.
It is interesting to note, however, that in both examples, it is a matter of perspective and individual interpretation. We first create an understanding of what it is to be short, and that determines long, as well as everything in between. We set the definition before it becomes defined.
As discussed in verse 1, defining things can lead to a pitfall of expectations, and we should be careful locking ourselves into such a mentality, but that doesn’t mean that we should never use this tool.
In fact, by doing so is the only way we can truly learn, and that, I think, is the true purpose of this verse. It is telling us how to learn, and at the same time how to teach. It is explaining that in order for us to understand a concept, or learn it, we must be able to understand it’s opposite. In order to teach, we must do the same for any student, as we must show the opposite in order to show the concept.
This is much like the maxim, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
We learn as much from the consequence as from the deed.