A Safety Net Like No Other

The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is one that comforts me. Why? Because Lao Tzu puts me at ease by telling me how the Tao is always at ease. He begins sort of cryptically. Overcoming without competing, answering without speaking a word, arriving without being summoned, accomplishing without a plan. All that really means is that harmony with the Tao isn’t some hard thing. The doing without doing, knowing not-knowing, not-competing competing. It is all child’s play, really. The Tao inside of me does everything; all I have to do is go along for the ride. Just let it happen.

And when I fail? Because, you know, I often do. The Tao is like a safety net for me. Its net covers the whole universe.

I was thinking of this earlier this week when I was listening to a story on NPR about how they had interviewed both democrats and republicans and got “shocking” results. Well, it was shocking for the NPR hosts. They had asked about how people felt about the social safety net that the government provides. Like unemployment benefits, food stamps, housing, health care, you know things like that. And they were stunned that there weren’t any real differences of opinions on the social safety net between those who identified as democrats and those who identified as republicans. It was like you couldn’t tell any difference in the way they felt about these things. They both wholeheartedly wanted the government in the business of providing that social safety net, just because people sometimes get into trouble, and it should be the government’s responsibility to take care of them. I didn’t find this news shocking, at all. But it is rather sad. No surprises, here, folks. If you are looking for real differences between the two parties, they are hard to find. That might be shocking to NPR, but it isn’t to me. Where are the people who will say, “There are other ways to help out people.” We used to take care of each other quite well, without the government’s “help”. Too bad that has long been forgotten. Now, people think they are being helpful by referring people to their local government agency. We have completely acquiesced our own human responsibilities to our fellow human beings. “What? I give plenty in taxes. That is what the government is there for.” Or, “I give to my church or other charity. Let them help.” Either way, people are encouraged to look outside themselves for answers. I can’t wait to get the messages of hate saying I don’t care about people going hungry. Or being homeless. Or being without medical care. Or whatever. But I didn’t say any of those things. All I am saying is that we used to live together in community with each other. We shared each others’ burdens. We helped each other out. It was a very personal responsibility. Now it has been outsourced. All individual responsibility has been eliminated. I don’t owe you anything. What’s that you say, “You are a fellow human being?” So what? Your problems are yours, not mine. And even while insisting that those that are down and out look elsewhere for help, we all know that those outside sources of help are horribly inefficient and just plain bad about letting people slip through the cracks.

Perhaps, you think this is a strange way to be approaching the Tao’s safety net. But I can’t help myself. Its meshes may be wide, but, unlike those outside sources of help, it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

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