Why do we say "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step"?

Well-Known Expressions

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step

Meaning:

Great things start from humble beginnings. Don't get overwhelmed by a large project, just get started.

Background:

In Chinese the expression refers to a "1,000 li journey". A li is an old Chinese measure of distance which converts to approximately 360 miles or 576 km.

This expression is attributed to Lao Tzu, recognized as the founding father of Taoism (also known as Daoism.) Traditionally Lao Tzu has been portrayed as a contemporary of Confucious (6th-century BCE). It is said Confucious and Lao Tzu met through the latter's work as an archivist in the Imperial Library of the Zhou Dynasty. They discussed the cornerstones of Confucianism but Lao Tzu strongly disagreed with what he felt to be hollow practices and thus he formulated Taoism.

However, modern historians tend to think that Lao Tzu either did not exist or that he lived during either the 5th or 4th-centuries BCE - around the beginning of the Warring States period (a 200+ year period which ultimately led to the first unified Chinese empire under the Qin dynasty.)

People have spent more than two millennia arguing about the nature of Chinese philosophies, and likely will continue to do so - so any definition we offer will inevitably fall short but, boiling things down, according to differencebetween.info, the key difference is that Taoism focuses on the relationship between man and nature, and Confucianism focuses on the relationship between man and society. They are considered the polar opposites of each other.

The core of Confuciamism is humanity, morality and ethics. It encourages social harmony and mutual respect between the people. It is mainly concerned with the good that is obtained by establishing social values.

Taoism, on the other hand, has a direct focus on the person and his place in nature. It has a more liberal and direct perspective on life. It does not have set moral codes or society structures; this philosophy is more about finding the way of life through nature. It concentrates on a person’s relationship with himself to achieve inner harmony. It encourages an individual to understand the natural values of the world, and thus, in turn becomes more in tune with their inner-selves.

Alphabetical list of expressions

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