The Daoist principle of effortless action (無為/wuwei) should apply to everything we do no matter whether we are balancing the books or tying a knot. The only way we can achieve it is by assiduously cultivating the Dao like a great athlete training to ensure that they are “in the zone” for a major competition.
Some scholars speculate that the second half of this passage doesn’t belong here because there doesn’t appear to be a logical connection between it and the first half. In some versions, therefore, you will find it in Chapter 62.
Whatever its correct location, the second half shows the inclusive nature of Laozi’s philosophy: even the worst of us have redeeming features and are worth being saved. Or perhaps from a less idealistic level, all of us can learn from each other’s mistakes.
A good traveler leaves no tracks behind.
A good speaker makes no slips.
A good accountant uses no tallies.
A good gateman needs no bolts to secure a door,
But nobody can open it.
A good binder needs no knots,
But nobody can untie the binding.
This is why,
The sage is good at taking care of people;
So abandons no one.
The sage is good at taking care of things;
So wastes nothing.
This is called the inherited wisdom.
Thus, the good are the teachers of those who are not so good;
Those who are not so good provide object lessons for the good to learn from.
If you don’t value your teachers,
If you don’t care for your object lessons,
No matter how knowledgeable you think you are,
You are greatly deluded.
Such is the essential truth.