Lao Tzu and the giant tree

This is a story from the Tao Te Ching that I read long ago.  It is translated and paraphrased here for your pleasure.

Long ago there was a giant tree.  It grew many stories high, and its expansive branches and leaves were able to cover up half your view of the sky even when you stood a good distance away from it.

Lao Tzu grew curious of the famous tree.  He went to visit it, riding happily on top of his ox.  When he arrived there he saw that the tree was indeed gigantic.  He went up to some of the local folks that was milling around and struck up a conversation with them.

He asked the people, “Hey man, this tree here is so big.  How come nobody ever thought of building a ship or some furniture with the wood?”  The people replied, “Bro, you see how the trunk and the branches of the tree is all gnarly?  You can’t make beams and planks out of them.  It’s no good.”

Lao Tzu asked again, “Ok man, but how come no one’s ever thought of cutting the tree down for firewood?”  The good people replied once again, “Bro, this tree’s wood is very wet.  No matter how long you let it sit it still remains wet.  It does not make for good firewood.  It’s no good.”

Lao Tzu looked around, and saw that the tree was bountiful, and bore many fruits on its branches.  He then asked, “Friends, how are these fruits?”  The people probably grew a bit tired of him at this point.  They pointedly replied, “Bro, why don’t you just try one yourself?”  Lao Tzu bent down and picked up a fruit on the ground that had fallen off of the great tree.  He bit into it and winced.

It tasted like donkey wee wee.

At this point Lao Tzu came to a realization.  People left this tree alone and allowed it to thrive because it was absolutely useless.  It had nothing the people around it wanted.


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