An ancient gnarled tree:
Too fibrous for a logger’s saw,
Too twisted to fit a carpenter’s square,
Outlasts the whole forest.

Loggers delight in straight grained, strong, fragrant wood. If the timber is too difficult to cut, too twisted to be made straight, too foul-odored for cabinets, and too spongy for firewood, it is left alone. Useful trees are cut down. Useless ones survive.

The same is true of people. The strong are conscripted. The beautiful are exploited. Those who are too plain to be noticed are the ones who survive. They are left alone and safe.

But what if we ourselves are among such plain persons? Though others may neglect us, we should not thing of ourselves as being without value. We must not accept the judgment of others as the measure of our own self worth. Instead, we should live our lives in simplicity.

Surely, we will have flaws, but we must take stock in them according to our own judgment and then use them as a measure of self-improvement. Since we need not expend energy in putting on airs or maintaining a position, we are actually free to cultivate the best parts of our personalities. Thus, to be considered useless in not a reason for despair, but an opportunity. It is the chance to live without interference and to express one’s own individuality.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

I think a part of what Tao teaches me is that nothing is really useless. Even a tree with no other purpose takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, allowing us to breathe.

The weeds I remove from my garden are put into the composter, to make soil for future plants. My recycling output usually equals my trash output now, and I keep working to generate less and less trash. I look for recyclable containers or tins or other things I can use again. I give away my used goods to the Salvation Army or Amvets when I can. So what seems useless to some, I try to find some use for.

Even my nephew and sister, who are mentally disabled, have their purpose. My nephew now lives with a kind woman who tries to help him, and so she feels useful in helping him with his life. They both are useful to me in providing me with more compassion and understanding for the disabled, and someone for me to care for. My mother found her purpose in life in caring for them and for so many other people.

The best way to get out of feeling useless is to help someone else with their problems. Right now, I’m helping my sister-in-law and her husband, providing bridge loans while they get moved and resettled. I don’t mind helping out. It makes me feel useful. I care for my family and my pets, taking my cat to the vet today. Seeing people caring for all those pets, you can see how useful even a pet can be to someone, providing love and affection that person might not get otherwise.

It’s easy to just dismiss someone or something as useless. But it’s a lot more fulfilling to take another look, and respect that person or thing as a part of Tao, and prehaps see the true usefulness. At least, it’s worth a try.