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)
A Good Dose of Humility, aka Reality
I have been on something of a non-intervention kick for sometime. But, as we kick off a new week, I want to remind my readers the whole reason I stress non-intervention, so much, is because it makes governing so much easier. It is easier, both for those doing the governing, and for those who are being governed. Lao Tzu has been instructing those who wish to be great leaders, in the art of governing, for the last several chapters. Today’s is no different. Today, he stresses the importance of humility in governing. And, given how out of whack our priorities in governing currently are, our “leaders” could sure use a good dose of humility, aka reality, right about now.
I am thinking of an article I saw last Friday. Kyle Anzalone pointed it out to me. The link to it was included in his news roundup on Friday. As I recall, it was reported by BBC news. And, the gist of the article was one of our generals “gloating” about one of our 3 million dollar Patriot missiles taking out a $200 drone. I believe his exact words were, “It [referring to the drone] didn’t stand a chance.” With that kind of wasteful spending, is it any wonder the present administration doesn’t think we have enough money left over to continue funding the “Meals on Wheels” program, at the current levels? Look, I get the common argument from conservatives, the constitution says that the government is supposed to provide for the common defense, and only promote the general welfare. And, I really don’t wish to get into an argument over that.
But, I will say, given our already astronomical spending on the military industrial complex, and Trump’s wishes to expand it by another 54 billion dollars (did I get the right number of zeros in that number?), I think we passed the bounds of providing for the common defense many times over, quite a long time ago.
And, especially so, when Lao Tzu clearly teaches that if we minded our own business, taking care of our own people, and not meddling in the affairs of others, we wouldn’t need to be on the defensive, at all. 20 trillion dollars in debt and we are spending money like there is no tomorrow. Sadly, tomorrow is only a day away. And, I am beginning to wonder if the sun, indeed, will come out.
I could go on and on with this, but I really need to get back to the subject of humility in governing. So, without further ado, here is Red Pine’s translation of today’s chapter. The ensuing commentaries are so spot on, I won’t presume to add my own commentary to them.
“The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers
is because it has mastered being lower
thus it can govern a hundred rivers
hence if sages would be above the people
they should speak as if they were below them
if they would be in front
they should act as if they were behind them
thus when sages are above
the people aren’t burdened
when they are in front
the people aren’t obstructed
the world never wearies
of pushing sages forward
and because they don’t struggle
no one can struggle against them”
YEN TSUN says, “Rivers don’t flow toward the sea because of its reputation or its power but because it does nothing and seeks nothing.”
TE-CH’ING says, “All rivers flow toward the sea, regardless of whether they are muddy or clear. And the sea is able to contain them all because it is adept at staying below them. This is a metaphor for sages, to which the world turns because they are selfless.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “When sages possess the kingdom, they speak of themselves as ‘orphaned, widowed, and impoverished’ or ‘inheritor of the country’s shame and misfortune.’ Thus, in their speech, they place themselves below others. They do not act unless they are forced. They do not respond unless they are pushed. They do not rise unless they have no choice. Thus, in their actions, they place themselves behind others.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “When sages rule over the people, they don’t oppress those below with their position. Thus, the people uphold them and don’t think of them as a burden. When sages stand before them, they don’t blind them with their glory. Thus, the people love them as parents and harbor no resentment. Sages are kind and loving and treat the people as if they were their children. Thus, the whole world wants them for their leaders. The people never grow tired of them because sages don’t struggle against them. Everyone struggles against something. But no one struggles against those who don’t struggle against anything.”
SU CH’E says, “Sages don’t try to be above or in front of others. But when they find themselves below or behind others, the Tao can’t help but lift them up and push them forward.”
YANG-HSIUNG says, “Those who hold themselves back are advanced by others. Those who lower themselves are lifted by others’ (Fayen: 7).
LI HSI-CHAI says, “The people aren’t burdened when sages are above them, because the people aren’t aware they have a ruler. And the people aren’t obstructed when sages are before them, because sages aren’t aware the people are their charges.”
WANG CHEN says, “Through humility sages gain the approval of the people. Once they gain their approval, they gain their tireless support. And once they have their tireless support, struggling over rank naturally comes to an end.”