When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.
A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.
If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 61, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
What We Should Demand of Our Would-Be Leaders
Yesterday, Lao Tzu compared governing a large country to frying a small fish, saying “You spoil it with too much poking.” Then, he went on to address how to deal with the problem of evil: Center your country in the Tao. Today, he continues talking about great nations and great leaders. And, he tells us exactly what he means by a nation centered in the Tao.
For today’s chapter, Lao Tzu returns to his favorite metaphor for talking about the Tao, water. When he says, “When a country obtains great power, it becomes like the sea”, he goes on to talk about the sea’s inherent humility.
I was talking to a friend, who happens to follow my blog, and he commented on how obvious it is I am enjoying these chapters where I get to rail against our would-be leaders. I can’t deny these “libertarian” chapters are my favorites, but I promised him, just a few more, then we will take a break from politics.
But not yet.
Lao Tzu is talking about humility, today. The more powerful a nation grows, the greater is its need for humility. But, what does humility mean? This is important for our would-be leaders to understand.
For Lao Tzu, humility means trusting the Tao; and, because of that trust, never needing to be defensive.
Why do we need to be on the defensive, anyway? The reason to be on the defensive is because you fear some aggressor, some enemy, is out to do you harm. This enemy wants to plunder and kill. Now, since war is the health of the State, as Randolph Bourne so correctly put it, the State needs enemies for a perpetual state of wars and rumors of wars. Otherwise, it is difficult to justify, not just the expansion, but the very existence of the State. Hence, the War Party, aka the Establishment, is running their candidate for US President, Hillary Clinton.
That Hillary will be the most war-mongering president of all time, if elected, should be self-evident. She is proud, unapologetic, and even giddy, about her war-mongering in the past. And, in every foreign policy speech, she promises to expand foreign interventions (read that as wars) as president. And, she seems hell-bent on re-igniting a cold war with Russia, comparing Putin with Hitler. But, because we are always given the illusion of choice, we are offered as the only allowable alternative, the “anti-establishment” (cough, cough) Donald Trump, who I guess, actually believing his own hate- and fear-mongering rhetoric, wants us all hiding behind a really great wall.
I think that just about sums the two up. And, it also should sum up our need to be defensive. If we were humble, if we trusted the Tao, we wouldn’t have to be. And, what is true of a nation is true for its individual leaders.
We need them to be humble! For, in order for one to be great, they must realize when they have made a mistake, admit it once they have realized it, and correct it, post haste.
Imagine, if you will, leaders who consider those who point out their faults as their most benevolent teachers. Yeah, I know. That really stretches the imagination. But, Lao Tzu isn’t finished. What if the aforementioned leaders thought of their enemy as the shadow they themselves cast. That is humility!
Lao Tzu keeps insisting we need to center our nation in the Tao. And, today, he tells us exactly what he means by that. A nation, centered in the Tao, nourishes its own people and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others. That nation, centered in the Tao, would be a light to all nations in the world.
That sounds, a whole lot, like the empty rhetoric we have heard from politicians for generations, now. But, why does it have to be empty? Center the nation in the Tao. That is what we should demand of our would-be leaders.