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)
Lao Tzu keeps returning to his favorite metaphor for being in harmony with the Tao. Be like water! Be like the sea. If you want to be a great leader, understand the lessons which water teaches us. All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility is what gives it its power.
This is certainly a lesson I would like all of our would-be leaders to take to heart. If you want to govern the people, you MUST place yourself below them. If you want to be a leader of the people, you MUST learn how to follow them.
And, as always, Lao Tzu offers us a wise and virtuous example in the art of governing. The Master is able to be above the people without anyone feeling oppressed. They are able to go ahead of the people, to lead them, without anyone feeling manipulated.
This is the kind of leader for whom the whole world would be grateful. They have mastered the virtue of competing without competing.
We will go into more depth on this aspect of being in harmony with the Tao in just a couple more days. For now, we get our introduction to it, when Lao Tzu says no one can compete with someone who competes with no one.
It is much like the practice of doing without doing, and knowing without knowing. How transforming it would be for us all, if we had leaders who would place themselves below us, and learn how to follow us. It has gotten kind of old to always feel oppressed and manipulated by our rulers. And, presently, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to their oppression and manipulation.
So, what can we do? Whether or not our leaders will ever follow us, we can still put Lao Tzu’s teachings into practice in our own lives. We, too, can practice competing without competing. We can live our lives in such a way that what our rulers do or don’t do, matters less and less, until THEY become obsolete. (Hint: They already are. We just haven’t realized it, yet.)
Tomorrow’s chapter Lao Tzu will devote to us doing, just this. He has just three things to teach us, and if we will look inside ourselves, and put them into practice in our lives, we will find they are our three greatest treasures.