If actions – even the best of actions – are accompanied with the thought ‘I am doing good’, the benevolent man may become depressed. For instance UN medical teams, working in primitive areas, have greatly reduced infant mortality by giving some simple instructions to the mid wives. Yet it was found later that the population of the villages had not increased. The reason was, that there was not enough food to support any more; so the babies saved at birth died a lingering death of starvation a little later.

Even when actions are completely successful in actualizing their hoped-for results, there may be unforeseen and unwelcome effects. A saying of the Soto Zen sect is, ‘Eighty per cent is perfection’. They do not explain such phrases, but a parallel comment runs something like this:

‘Do things well. But not very well. If you do a thing well, others will see it and think, “Yes that is a good job, that is what I should have done if I had been doing it/’ But if it has been done very well, they may have doubts whether they could have reached that level. Then some of them may try to find something wrong with what you have done. If they cannot find anything wrong with it, they will try to find something wrong with you. If they cannot find something wrong with you, they will invent something. And that is bad for them. So don’t put them in that situation.

‘There is also the effect on you. If you have done something well, you finish it and forget it. But if you have done it very well, you are much more liable to begin to think, “Why, I have done that really very well.” And then perhaps your stride will lengthen a little, and your voice will be heard afar. And that will be bad for you.

‘So do things well. But if you do them very well, be very careful too!’


© trevor Leggett – Eighty percent is perfection

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