For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.
The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky.
All pervading like sunlight.
Firm like a mountain.
Supple like a tree in the wind.
He has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.
Nothing is impossible to him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for the people’s welfare
as a mother cares for her child.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 59, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today is Day 3 of me trying to apply what we have learned about philosophical Taoism to the art of governing. I am still out on this limb I call anarchism. Lao Tzu hasn’t come along and lopped off the branch, just yet. But, in spite of the fact that I am still maintaining the eternal reality, the way things are, is best referred to as anarchism, Lao Tzu does still continue to talk about how best to govern. And I know that a lot of you are still having trouble meshing together the idea of government with anarchism. Perhaps, if I had a better understanding of it myself, I would do a much better job of conveying what it is I believe.
The problem, I think, comes from trying to make anarchism out to be some set, static way of accomplishing things. But the Tao isn’t some set, static thing. And neither is anarchism. What we are trying to understand isn’t static at all. It is dynamic. It grows with our own understanding. We understand more and more as we go along in our journey. All I can ask of you is that you will indulge me while I continue to understand more and more.
Today, Lao Tzu says that there is nothing better than moderation. He specifically applies that to governing a country. Yesterday, he warned us that the higher our ideals, the lower our results were going to be. This is especially true when the will to power is in charge. But today, he has left that will to power behind. Oh, I know, we still have that to deal with. But Lao Tzu is beyond that, for today.
Now that he has dispensed with the problem of the will to power, he is telling those of us who want to be great leaders how best to govern. And he tells us that moderation is the way to go about it.
When he gives us the marks of a moderate person, he is merely talking about someone who is in perfect harmony with the way things are, the eternal reality. This is just another way of saying, this is how the Master looks when they are governing. And if we are able to see the marks, we will better understand what Lao Tzu means by moderation.
The first mark is freedom from your own ideas. It isn’t that you don’t have any ideas. It is that you aren’t a slave to them. What Lao Tzu is saying is that the difference between a moderate and an immoderate person is that freedom. An immoderate person is so certain that they are right. Their ideas, Their way of doing things. That they are completely incapable of seeing any other way of looking at things. They are enslaved to their own ideas. I know some anarchists that are just as enslaved to their own ideas, their own way of thinking and doing things. But anarchism doesn’t work that way. Freedom isn’t static. It is dynamic.
The second mark of a moderate person is how tolerant they are. I know that the word “tolerance” has been taking a beating the last few years. Tolerance had been a politically correct buzzword for awhile. After years of this, it seems to me that the growing trend is intolerance toward tolerance. This first showed up as intolerance of the intolerant. Then I started to hear that tolerance was simply not enough. I call that intolerance toward tolerance. Look, I get it. Acceptance sounds more accepting. The intolerant want acceptance to be the new politically acceptable buzzword. But I am not willing to play that game right now. Like it or not, I want to use the word tolerance. If for no other reason than that is the word that we have before us. Lao Tzu doesn’t say “accepting as the sky,” he says, “tolerant as the sky.” So, please, try to be moderate with me and “accept” that tolerance will just have to do.
Let’s keep this all in perspective. We are, after all talking about the marks of the moderate. Not the marks of the liberal, or the marks of the conservative. The moderate are not enslaved to their own ideas. And that makes them tolerant of every other idea.
I hope you are seeing the pattern that is beginning to develop as we explore what it is that moderation means. Each of these marks, these traits build on the last. Because the moderate person is free, they are tolerant. And because they are tolerant they are… All-pervading. That is the third mark. Sunshine spreads over the whole country. And moderation, too, spreads through all parts of the country.
It might come as a shock to some of my readers, but I will here equate anarchism with moderation. Moderation, or anarchism, does in fact pervade every thing in the world, the whole Universe really. If you are having trouble understanding that right now, give it time. I have said before that we have a whole lot of unlearning to do. And when it comes to that word, anarchism, we really have a whole lot of unlearning to do.
But I don’t really mean to distract you from our discussion about moderation. It just gets lonely out here on this limb sometimes, so I have to wave at you as you walk by.
The fourth and fifth marks of the moderate person I want to mention together; because they really serve to dispel a myth that I long believed about the moderate person. How can the moderate person be both firm like a mountain and supple like a tree in the wind? For a very long time I have not understand what being moderate really meant. And I still think a lot of people that label themselves moderate, don’t really know. But, contrary to my lack of understanding, the mark of a moderate person is not one who is holding up a wet finger to see which way the political winds are blowing and proceeding in that direction.
No, the moderate person is firm and supple. Not wishy-washy. The firmness relates to the fact that they still have very firm ideas. They are resolute in their purpose. Just like a mountain. And mountains are firm. Still, notice the subtle shift that Lao Tzu makes in going from describing the moderate person. Firm like a mountain, supple like a tree. Not supple like the wind. Not blowing every which way. Not going in whatever politically expedient way happens to be in vogue at the moment. They are like a tree, planted. And when the wind blows, because winds do blow, generally they come in from a variety of directions, that tree can withstand the winds. It doesn’t break, it bends. It is flexible. If the moderate person, so firm in their ideas, were likewise a slave to their own ideas, then they would break. But they are free. So, firm, yet supple.
The final mark of the moderate person is just downright crazy. Or at least it would sound downright crazy if we weren’t beginning to understand how this being in harmony with the way things are works. If I don’t have any destination in view, how am I ever supposed to get where I am going? But when I talk that way I am betraying my own enslavement to my own ideas. Once we understand what freedom really means, we see that this is the only end that we could ever have.
When I don’t have any destination in view, I can make use of anything life happens to bring my way. Life does have a way of bringing anything your way. Are you ready? Or do things have to be just so? If you are free, truly free, nothing will be impossible to you. When you have really let go of all your preconceived ideas of the way things ought to be, then, and only then, can you really deal with the way things really are. And, now you can really care for the people’s welfare. Oh, it isn’t that you didn’t care before. But you thought the solution was using force to achieve your ideals. That isn’t how a mother cares for her child. And that is why, for governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation.