If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.
When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.
Thus the Master is content
to serve as an example
and not to impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 58, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Does This Post Need a Trigger Warning?
Yesterday, we began a series of chapters which I don’t mind saying are my favorite ones. They are on the art of governing. As far as I am concerned, Lao Tzu was the very first libertarian. And, these very libertarian chapters were what attracted me to philosophical Taoism, in the first place. I had fun with yesterday’s chapter; and, I like to have fun. But, today, I want to be a bit more circumspect, as in serious and cautious, about what I say.
It is that word, tolerance, which gives me pause. Talk about a loaded word. Dare I call it “triggering”? Certainly, anytime tolerance comes up in conversation, the conversation tends to take a radical turn. And, usually, it is a turn for the worse.
So, I just want to get some things out of the way, right from the start. I have zero desire in entering the fray, arguing semantics: “I am not being intolerant, you are being intolerant!” Words can cut more surely than a knife. “I don’t have to be accepting to be tolerant!” It has long been maintained that nothing travels faster, in our Universe, than the speed of light. But, the speed with which accusations and name-calling, vitriol, is hurled, in this day and age, rivals it.
I am reminded of a lesson my dad was always trying to get across to me while he was living: “It takes two to argue.” That was his way of teaching me to know when it was time to shut up, when to back down. When I would say, “But they started it”, he swept away the ground on which I was standing, just like that.
I doubt my father would have called it tolerance. But, that was exactly what he was trying to teach me.
But, let’s make this a little more clear. When Lao Tzu says, “If a country is governed with tolerance, the people are comfortable and honest”, he is contrasting that with, “If a country is governed with repression, the people are depressed and crafty.” He is saying tolerance is “not trying to control”. Tolerance isn’t about whether you like something, it is about whether you will allow it. Will you let people be free to pursue their own happiness, or will you try to control them?
If people are more depressed and crafty, than comfortable and honest, it is a good indication the will to power is in charge. And, the higher the ideals, the lower the results will be.
If you try to make people happy, you lay the groundwork for misery. If you try to make people moral, you lay the groundwork for vice.
We simply must let go of our desire to intervene, to interfere, to try to control. You want to know what intolerance is? There it is. Insisting that people can’t be trusted. That they need to follow your will. You get to determine what is moral, and what is not. You get to decide which pursuits of happiness are allowed, and which are not. Intolerance is the desire to impose your own will.
We need to be content to serve as an example. And, that means letting people find their own way. That, my friends, is tolerance. Practice being pointed, without piercing; straightforward, yet supple; radiant, but easy on the eyes.