Excessive Attention to the Trivial Drains the Will; Failing to Achieve Success by Leaving the Final Step Undone
King Wu of Zhou, the first ruler of the Chinese Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC to 256 BC) destroyed the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC to 1046 BC) that came before him. After coming to power, he stabilized the state and opened passages around the state to other nationalities.
In the west, a state called Lu presented several mastiffs (dogs) as a tribute to King Wu of Zhou. Ji Shi (Duke Zhao of Zhou), was afraid that King Wu of Zhou would waste his energy by paying excessive attention to the mastiffs, so he wrote an article, The Mastiffs From Lu State, to urge King Wu of Zhou to cultivate virtue, to be cautious in conduct and to value sages.
Duke Zhao believed that a person with virtue would not treat others slightly nor tease others. If one were to treat their officials slightly or tease them, they would not work with all of their heart. If one treated common people slightly and teased them, they would not do their best. If one is infatuated with and indulges in what they like or novel things, one will not only consume energy but also lose ambition. Duke Zhao said that dallying with people causes one to lose virtue, while dallying with things causes one to lose ambition.
Duke Zhao also mentioned that if one does not pay attention to the little things, it will, in the end, harm one's virtue. It is like piling up a high mountain of earth. Not putting the final basket of earth on it will make the project fall short of success.
When we plan to build a high mountain, we pile up the earth one basket after another. When the mountain is close to completion, one more basket will finish it, but if we do not persevere to the end and do not add the final basket of earth, the mountain will be incomplete. All previous efforts would have been wasted and we would suffer defeat even with victory within one's grasp.
This story tells us that paying excessive attention to trivial things drains the will. It also tell us that we need to finish what we start and be steadfast and persistent. Perseverance leads to success. Otherwise, all previous efforts will be wasted due to a lack of persistence even though only the last step remains undone.