The Onus Is On Us

The Tao is the center of the Universe,
the good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.

Honors can be bought with fine words,
respect can be won with good deeds;
but the Tao is beyond all value,
and no one can achieve it.

Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
Offer instead
to teach him about the Tao.

Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek you find;
and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 62, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

After teaching on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders, for the last five days, Lao Tzu brings the teaching home to all of us. Some of us, who don’t think of ourselves as leaders, might have thought the teaching of the last few days didn’t much apply to us. But, Lao Tzu reminds us, the onus is, well, on us, when it comes to choosing a new leader. Those words, to would-be leaders, are words we better be taking to heart.

It seems like it is always time to choose new leaders, somewhere in the world. So, what advice does Lao Tzu have for us, in this perpetual election season?

When a new leader is chosen, don’t offer to help them with your wealth or your expertise. How interesting! They always seem to be interested in one or both, from us. But, as we have already said, quite a few times, our leaders don’t always know what is best for themselves, let alone us. They crave honors and respect. I see the allure of both of those. It is always nice to be recognized for your achievements. And, who doesn’t want to be treated with respect?

Yes, honor and respect have value. But those can be be bought with fine words, or won with good deeds. The Tao, on the other hand, is beyond all value. No one can achieve this.

This is why Lao Tzu instructs those of us choosing a new leader to teach them about the Tao.

So, what should I teach the would-be leaders, I know of, about the Tao?

I could begin by teaching them, the Tao is the center of the Universe. Here, Lao Tzu isn’t talking about its location in the universe. Think of the center as the origin, or the source. The Tao isn’t a place to go, but a way to be. We need to center ourselves within it, because it is the center, or source, of everything that is. This is why it is so important to center your country in the Tao. You want it going with the flow of the Tao, rather than running counter to it.

But there is something else I want to teach would-be leaders about the Tao. That is, when you are good, it is a treasure; and when you are bad, it is a refuge. Why is that so important for would-be leaders to know?

Here, Lao Tzu goes way back in history to answer the question with why the ancient Masters so esteemed the Tao. It is because, when you are one with the Tao, when you seek you find. See, when you are good, the Tao is a treasure to be sought.

But, what happens when you make a mistake? Yes, even the best of leaders will make mistakes. Hopefully, they will be inclined to recognize it, admit it, and correct it, when they do. But, what might help to incline them in this way? The knowledge that when they make a mistake, they are forgiven. The Tao is a refuge for us, when we make a mistake. We are forgiven!

I can’t think of a better thing to know about the Tao than this good news. One of the reasons I haven’t always been so forthcoming in admitting my own mistakes, is because I feared I would never be forgiven. What a comfort it is to know, I am.

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