The Wisdom of the I Ching

3. Initial Difficulties

Getting started creates special difficulties. Everything is in a state of confusion, and it is hard to know how to proceed. There are always obstacles at the beginning of any endeavor because beginning something new means disturbing the established ways that everyone has become accustomed to. But this is natural and occurs every time a man tries to initiate something, to encourage growth and to institute change. The result is always some degree of confusion and chaos at the startup. But if a man persists, the chaos clears up, new ways are established, and the difficulties are overcome.

All advancement is accompanied by difficulty, therefore the presence of difficulty actually holds promise of success. No great work can be accomplished without a struggle, therefore the man who wishes to accomplish something welcomes this struggle. At the same time, it would be foolish of him to try to advance recklessly. A difficult situation means that everything must be handled with care. Assistance at the beginning should be sought from others and active direction provided them. A leader in a new enterprise must blaze the trail and lend encouragement to his coworkers. It is his task to bring order out of confusion by plotting strategy and organizing resources. This requires skill in identifying problems, setting goals, and explaining those goals to others.

The Lines
1. [9] An obstacle at the beginning must be carefully assessed. No mere difficulty should deter a man from the goal he has set out to accomplish; but every problem must be dealt with and not ignored. The right kind of helpers are needed, but these can be found by approaching them gently, not demandingly.

2. [6] A helper who arrives just at a time of difficulty is greeted with suspicion. Is he a true helper, or is he seeking to exploit a difficulty? Even if he is honest, not every person who offers help should be welcomed. It is best to wait until the situation clears before accepting help. A man doesn't really know what kind of help is needed until he has a better grasp of the situation himself.

3. [6] Certain endeavors require expert guidance. A man is foolish if he tries to forge ahead on his own without the proper expertise. Better to abort the enterprise than to risk all on incompetentcy and incomplete understanding. A wise man does not try to fake his way through difficulties.

4. [6] A man senses his incapacity, but honor and duty demand he proceed. What to do? He must seize whatever help he can to assist him and go ahead. Acknowledging a need is not a disgrace; rather it reveals a sober assessment of the situation. By bringing together the needed resources, a successful outcome is assured.

5. [9] The man is competent, but others are not convinced. Nothing he says can win them over. If he proceeds with small matters, he can succeed and later do greater things as confidence in him builds. But if he attempts great things in the face of a lack of confidence by others, he is sure to fail, because great endeavors require broad-based support.

6. [6] Overwhelming difficuties at the start make a man give up, and failure is unavoidable. Success never follows from a despairing attitude. No hope can be offered to a man who does not expend his best efforts. At best, he might try again later when he has sufficient resolve to tackle the difficulties.


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