The power of no action

Reading chapter 43 of the Tao Te Ching

Dennis Hambeukers
Published in
5 min readDec 15, 2023

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“The most submissive thing in the world can ride roughshod through the hardest in the world — that which is without substance entering that which has no crevices.
That is why I know the benefit of resorting to no action. The teaching that uses no words, the benefit of resorting to no action, these are beyond the understanding of all but a very few in the world.”

Doing nothing, no action might just be the core of the Tao. This chapter is all about doing nothing, of being submissive. Doing nothing might sound like a bad idea. But it might just be the best idea, the most powerful idea. This chapter is about the power of being submissive, no action, and no words, of doing nothing.

Today I felt the power, the joy, and the peace of no action. I felt it because I was close to acting. Because I was so so close to acting, I could really feel the joy of not acting. The paradoxal thing is that there needs to be a trigger for no action. If there is nothing triggering you, if there is nothing that propels you to take action, there is also no no action. No action only exists because there is a need for action. The whole thing about no action is triggers. You can only not act if you you feel the urge to act. You feel the urge to act if you fear something, if you want something or if you are programmed by convention to act. If there is nothing triggering you, there is also no need for no action.

Only if you have inner peace you can not act. Inner peace is the result of inner work. Triggers are your friends. Triggers point you to your fears, desires, and programming. You can then reflect on the trigger and what it pointed you to inside of you. Triggers will take you to the dark places inside yourself. If you then shine light into these dark places and embrace these fears, desires, and programs, you can release them. Next time a similar trigger will come to you, it will not trigger you anymore. Each time you add to your inner peace and lessen the need to act.

But this chapter is not about the benefits of no action. Chapter XXXVII is about the benefits of no action:

“The way never acts, but nothing is left undone.”

In chapter XXXVII the Tao Te Ching talks about what results you will get from no action: nothing is left undone. All that needs to be done will be done by doing nothing. But chapter XLIII talks about the power that no action has. In the first line it already talks about the submissive being able to completely bulldozer the hardest in the world, that it can penetrate the substances that have no cracks. The second line adds to that. It says that only few people understand the benefit of no action. That seemed so arrogant to me at first. So exclusive. Like it is a power play that only few people can play. That makes it powerful, right? If only a few people can understand the benefit of doing nothing, and doing nothing can bulldozer the hardest things, that is sheer power.

And it is. Walking away is one of the boldest power moves in the book. It can be much more powerful than responding. People want to provoke you into acting all the time. If someone can provoke you, they have power over you. But power is always given. By not acting, by not responding to a provocation, you give no power to the other person. People are only as powerful as the amount they can influence other people. No action means no influence which means no power. We are programmed to respond. It is considered impolite to not respond. Not responding can be the biggest insult according to convention. But not responding can also be placing you above the provocation. Not responding to the provocation but telling your own story is a debating strategy. It is what people get taught in media training. Stick to your own story and don’t let the other person drag you into their story and their frame. This way you can take control, gain power. You go around it instead of going through it.

But is it only powerful because so few people understand the benefit of no action? Yes and no. If few people know about no action and have the inner peace to practice it, it is more powerful if you have it. But think about a world where more people understood this the benefit of no action. There would be less conflict. Everyone would have inner peace. No hardest things would have to be ridden roughshod through. That would be a wonderful world. I don’t think the Tao is about power over others. It’s about power over yourself. Inner peace is power, personal power. People that provoke you might be overpowered by you not acting but it comes from a place of love. It is non violent. You just leave the other people with their frustrations. This is your gift to them. Because these frustrations are the signposts that can lead them to inner peace.

The first chapter of the Tao Te Ching states that the Tao is indefinable, teaching that each person can discover the Tao for themselves. This is my reading of the Tao.Thank you for taking the time to read this essay. I hope you enjoyed it. If you clap for this essay, I will know I connected with you. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see more essays pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also subscribe to an email service here on Medium which will drop new essays right into your inbox. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn to see new articles in your timeline or chat with me there.

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Dennis Hambeukers

Design Thinker, Agile Evangelist, Practical Strategist, Creativity Facilitator, Business Artist, Corporate Rebel, Product Owner, Chaos Pilot, Humble Warrior