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Newsletter - April 2022

Need Approval From Others?

“The Master does his job and then stops… Because he is content with himself, he doesn’t need others’ approval.” (Lao Tzu)


We tend to do our job and then look over our shoulders. Who noticed? Are they impressed? Do they approve? We think it matters because our “contentment” hangs in the balance. It’s not up to us; it’s up to them (whoever they are). However, the Tao Te Ching (Chapter 30) reminds us that if we live like this, we’ll never know peace and serenity. The Master’s way starts from the inside.


Why is it that we need approval from others? Doubtless there are psychological explanations based on our past needs from childhood. When we are small, we obviously depend on others for many things including food, shelter, and safety. As we grow up, we learn to take care not only of our basic physical needs, but also our psychological needs such as a sense of self-worth. To the degree we succeed in this, we become independent of needing to have these needs met by others. As adults, we typically no longer depend on others for food, shelter, and safety. And, typically, our self-worth no longer depends on approval from others – we supply it for ourselves.


This is what the Master does. He doesn’t look to others for approval because he doesn’t need it. Interestingly, Lao Tzu doesn’t even say he provides his own approval to himself. What he says is much simpler than that: “The Master does his job and then stops.” The Master’s action is an end in itself. He has no agenda, no ulterior motive, no “need” for anything.


I came across an interesting question the other day. “Whatever you’re about to do, would you do it if nobody were watching?” No, I’m not thinking of anything criminal! I’m thinking of anything you might do that would be for the greater good.  Or how about this? “Would you do it even if nobody would ever find out you did it?” The point is that, in both cases, you’d never receive the approval of others. The question is, would you act anyway? And then, having acted, would you be content with yourself?


On this point, there’s another subtlety in Lao Tzu’s words. The Master doesn’t act in order to be content with himself – he starts by being content with himself. We’re told “Because he is content with himself, he doesn’t need others’ approval.” In other words, he doesn’t do his job to earn approval from others so that he can then feel content. Nor does he need to earn his own approval, as it were, and then feel content. He is already content before he does anything. He doesn’t need approval from anyone. “The Master does his job and then stops.” End of story.


How does he do it? Chapter 22 has the answer “The Master, by residing in the Tao, sets an example for all beings.” So, does that mean all we need do is reside in the Tao? The short answer is yes.


Why is this so easy to say and so hard to do? I think it’s because much of the time we reside in our self rather than in the Tao. And our self needs a constant supply of self-worth. It’s good to get it from others – after all, nothing beats a round of applause. But we can also give it to ourselves. So, why is it that we so seldom do our job and then stop? Why does it seem our contentment hangs in the balance depending on getting approval from somewhere, regardless of where we get it from?


An example that causes me to think about this is when I see, or hear about, anonymous donors. Now you might say I would likely approve of anonymous donors, and I do. Their donations often make big differences. But the important point is that they don’t know that I approve. They don’t even know who I am, any more than I know who they are. The approval of others is never part of the equation for an anonymous donor. So, what’s going on here?


I think what’s going on is that anonymous donors are like the Master in that they do their job and then stop, and let go completely. No part of what they do is about them. It’s entirely about their action and the difference that it makes in the lives of others. As long as we need the approval of others, I think we fail to understand this. We think: Why would they remain anonymous? But what if we were already content with ourselves before, during, and after our actions? Then we’d understand, wouldn’t we? If the Master were listening to us right now, I think this is where he’d smile. When we completely let go of our self, our contentment no longer depends on our sense of self-worth. That’s where peace and serenity lie.


What’s an example that’s true for you where the need for the approval of others was the main reason you did something? Please note, I’m not saying this is either good or bad. After all, there are thousands of non-anonymous donors out there – and there’s nothing wrong with anything they do. It’s just interesting, I think, to wonder to what extent we do our job and then stop – and let go completely.

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, you can get in touch with me by:


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(In Harmony with the Tao: A Guided Journey into the Tao Te Ching is available as an e-book or as a paperback from your nearest independent book store, from White Cloud Press, from, or from

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