The man who waits for a roast duck to fly into his mouth must wait a very, very long time. I love this Chinese proverb.
It makes me laugh and at the same time feel a little sad for the man waiting for the impossible. The humor comes, for me, from the visual image my mind creates. Imagine Shel Silverstein drawing. A kneeling man, an over sized mouth held agape and pointed skyward. The mouth has more spaces than teeth and his skinny frame is decorated with dust, spider webs and other debris from his head down to the pile of dirt that has accumulated nearly up to his waist as he waits for the dead and cooked duck to fly and fly straight into his mouth. The image conveys the dangers of waiting or hoping for what we want by stretching the concept to the point of rediculousness by having the man wait for something we believe is wonderful but experience tells us is not likely to occur. Funny if it weren’t so sad right?
So why do I draw inspiration from a proverb that conjures a sad or even desperate image of man in my mind?
The image of that man wasting his life into ruin also brings to my mind thoughts of another proverb. The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today. The first sentence suggests, that if we want trees, we are 20 years too late. Like the man waiting for the flying roast duck we’ll be waiting in vain. The second sentence tells us that though we missed the boat 20 years ago, its not too late, we can still have the trees we desire. Some find this concept to be inspiring. Of course of course for many no tree ever gets planted. After all, if today is still a good day to plant a tree. So is tomorrow.
The concepts of these two proverbs considered together though is where I find the inspiration necessary for action. Together the expressed ideas move beyond the uninspired office break room poster. Together the proverbs tell us of the reward for taking action and the consequences for not doing so. When the sort of rah rah inspiration of the tree planting is considered with alongside the image of the waiting man, we now have motivation for real live adults. Carrot and stick. These concepts together provide the self aware person who is skeptical of taking action for action’s sake with the most powerful motivation of all. The realization that not only can a desired future be achieved, but that we must take action towards achieving that future.