Fake Lao Tzu Quote
"Be careful what you water your dreams with..."
This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:
"Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream."
The first thing that disturbs me with this quote - probably because I am a writer by profession - is the grammar of the first sentence. Should it not be "Be careful with what you water your dreams"? But that sentence only gets a fraction of the results, and several of those have an even more awkward reading: "Be careful with what you water your dreams with."
As for the content, Lao Tzu did not discuss dreams even once in Tao Te Ching. Nor did he express himself in this blabbering way, full of nonsensical concepts and metaphors. It is plain ridiculous.
How to nurture one's dreams? By living, of course. But there is no straight relation between one's life while awake and one's dreams. However we choose to live, we get dreams covering the full spectrum, and almost all of them are forgotten long before waking up.
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The quote might make a little more sense if by "dreams" wishes and ambitions are intended. If so, why not use these words instead?
Still, terms unfamiliar to Lao Tzu and his time remain - such as optimism and opportunity. These are concepts of our time, the era of getting ahead in life, no matter what. Personal success was to Lao Tzu and his contemporaries the opposite of the Way, which meant that we should all try our best to benefit everyone and everything, not just our own ambitions. Those who cared mainly about their own success were abominable in the eyes of Lao Tzu. Chapter 53 makes it clear what he thought about those who used their powers to enrich themselves (my version):
When the palace is magnificent,
The fields are filled with weeds,
And the granaries are empty.
Some have lavish garments,
Carry sharp swords,
And feast on food and drink.
They possess more than they can spend.
This is called the vanity of robbers.
It is certainly not the Way.
The ideal behavior was that of the sage who understood to give priority to the needs of others. Chapter 7 states:
The sage puts himself last and becomes the first,
Neglects himself and is preserved.
Is it not because he is unselfish that he fulfills himself?
I have not seen the quote examined here, or anything similar to it, in any version of Tao Te Ching - and I did not expect it. The oldest books I have found to contain the quote are from 2008, both accrediting it to Lao Tzu without giving a source: More Than a Mountain: One Woman's Everest by T. A. Loeffler has the complete quote in the beginning of the book, whereas Reality check by Guy Kawasaki has the first two sentences of it (page 366).
According to Amazon, Loeffler's book was published April 8, and Kawasaki's October 30, so it is possible that the latter got the quote from the former. But it is more likely that they both got the quote from the Internet.
A Google search finds the oldest posting of the complete quote in a blog from February 8, 2008, ascribing it to Lao Tzu. No later than the same month it appeared on the Goodreads website, where it has by now (August 2020) received almost 1,200 likes, the first of which is from February 9, 2008. That is one day later than the above mentioned blog post, but it is still most probable that Goodreads published the quote first - also that both Loeffler and Kawasaki got it there. On Facebook, it started to appear in 2010, and soon multiplied.
It is strange that this long quote would appear without any trace of its origin, or an explanation to why it was accredited to Lao Tzu to begin with. Still, I could not find a plausible source to it.
The expression "water your dreams" is odd, but not unique to the quote examined here. The oldest occurrence of it I have found is in the book Can you stand to be blessed? from 1994, by T. D. Jakes, who is the bishop of a non-denominational church in Dallas. His words are more somber than the quote discussed here (page 167):
No one can water your dreams but you. No matter how many people hold your hand, you still must shed your own tears. Others can cry with you, but they can't cry for you! That's the bad news. The good news is there will be a harvest at the end of your tears!
Next decade, another book with a Christian theme used the same expression with a different tone - Journey to significance from 2003, by the pastor Tony Miller (page 167):
No one will ever water your dreams as well as you do! For those who are satisfied to walk in mediocrity, the highway of life has always been paved with good intentions.
There is an earlier book with the expression, even using it as a header for a paragraph: Breakthrough Secrets: To Live Your Dreams from 2000, edited by Susan A. Friedmann (page 90). But that short text deals with actual and not metaphorical water, and how essential it is to the body (page 90):
Your body needs water to access its energy potential. Your body's water-powered energy is a serious key to pursuing and manifesting your life's dream. Water is the pathway in which all body functions flow. The body is composed of at least two-thirds water and is critical for every single body function. Your life potential can be evaluated by the water content in your cells. It's evident that we live on a cellular level.
There are similarities between the Christian quotes and the one examined here, but far from enough to decide one of them to be its origin. What can be stated, though, is that nothing in Tao Te Ching can be considered the origin.
September 13, 2020.
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