Huizi said to Zhuangzi, “This old tree is so crooked and rough that it is useless for lumber. In the same way, your teachings have no practical use.”
Zhuangzi replied, “This tree may be useless as lumber, but you could rest in the gentle shade of its big branches or admire its rustic character. It only seems useless to you because you want to turn it into something else and don’t know how to appreciate it for what it is. My teachings are like this.”
Zhuangzi, the Taoist philosopher, is supposed to have lived in China over 2,300 years ago. He encouraged people to achieve their potential through effortlessness, by not resisting their own natures.
His famous story about the crooked tree appeals to me for many reasons. Being in the forest industry, I know that a crooked tree is not suitable for making standard commodity lumber products, but it can make high quality decorative products which feature its natural beauty and individuality.
Such a tree has grown to a ripe old age by adapting itself to its environment. Whereas the trees in the industrial forest are straight and look alike, the crooked tree grew alone, or with a mixture of other trees of different ages and species. This kind of tree will resist wind and disease better than the more uniform trees of the plantation forest.
And so it is with people who follow their natures and pursue their own path to self-fulfillment. They are more independent and more secure. A true language learner must be like this crooked tree of Zhuangzi.