All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.
If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.
The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 66, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu returned to instructing would-be leaders in the art of governing. His instruction to avoid being clever or rich may seem hopelessly naive; considering the only people that ever show any interest in governing us, seem to wholly rely on their cleverness and riches to advance their own grab for power. Tomorrow, we will talk about whether Lao Tzu’s instructions can be taken seriously. Today, Lao Tzu continues to defy conventional wisdom, with his advice for would-be leaders.
He begins with a now familiar metaphor. “All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.” Does Lao Tzu really expect those who are ever reaching for greater and greater power to learn a lesson from the sea? Actually, yes, he really does.
Those that want to govern us need to understand that the only way to achieve true power, the only way to be above and before, is to place themselves below and behind. It is the power of yin and yang, the way of the Tao. This isn’t up for debate. If you want to be above the people, you MUST place yourself below them. If you want to go before them, to lead them, you MUST learn how to follow them.
This is a lesson that the Master learns as she learns to follow the Tao. Which is why learning to follow the Tao is the first thing any would-be leaders MUST do. In learning to follow the Tao, she places herself below and behind. But this is where the power of yin and yang comes into play. Look what happens when she learns to follow the flow of the Tao. She finds herself above the people. Yet, no one feels oppressed. Now, she goes ahead of the people, leading them by being an example of how to follow the Tao. And, no one feels manipulated.
This is where the powers that be always get things completely wrong. They place themselves above and before us. And what do we feel? Oppression and manipulation. At least that is true for those of us not so inured by this present madness to realize we are being oppressed and manipulated.
How very different it is when the Master guides us. Then, there is no oppression; there is no manipulation. In their place, there is gratitude. The whole world is grateful to her. Our rulers have the audacity to think we all should be grateful for their oppression and manipulation. They really do think that. Their opinion of us is that low. They think we are that stupid. They want us to believe that without them things would be… (here, they invent imaginary darkness designed to frighten those who are the most easily manipulated; and, therefore, oppressed). Don’t fall for their lies, their distortions.
There is a better way. A way in which they could never compete. This is where Lao Tzu introduces the concept of not-competing competing. This is a concept that we will cover in more detail in the days ahead. Today, let it suffice to say that the Master competes with no one, for no one can compete with her.