wú yònɡ zhī yònɡ 无用之用
The Advantage of Appearing Useless
This term means choosing to be useless to realize the preservation of life. Originating in Zhuangzi, choosing to appear useless is a way advocated by Zhuangzi (369?-286 BC) for preserving one’s life. He said that very able people are often required to shoulder many responsibilities, which will result in greater difficulties and dangers harmful to their physical and mental health. Zhuangzi concluded that only by giving up the desire to advance or become useful, showing instead how useless one is, can one avoid the perils of the human world and therefore preserve one’s life.
The trees in the mountain invite the axe; lamp oil illuminates by burning itself. The bark of the cinnamon tree is edible, and therefore it is cut down; the lacquer tree produces useful varnish, and therefore it suffers incisions. People all know the advantages of being useful, but no one knows the advantages of being useless. (Zhuangzi)