If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.
The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.
Therefore the Master says
‘I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good become as common as grass.’
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 57, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Going through the eighty-one chapters of the Tao Te Ching, a chapter at a time each day, has been a very rewarding exercise for me. Over the course of the last couple of years I have added hundreds of followers on tumblr. Followers is the word that tumblr uses. I prefer to refer to you as friends. While I know only a small handful of you in real life, I have been able to communicate with many of you via messages, and my life has been enriched. Thank you to each and every one of you. I love scrolling down my dashboard, each and every day, and seeing what is on your mind.
Some of these chapters speak of the great mystery which is the Tao. Chapters like that, I take a deep breath and think to myself, how do I make sense of this? Those chapters are always challenging for me to write about. I never feel that I can put it into words. And, Lao Tzu has basically told us that everything that we say about the Tao isn’t the Tao anyway. So, it wasn’t like I wasn’t warned.
Then there are chapters like this one today. Where instead of taking a deep breath, I breathe a sigh of relief. These chapters write themselves. This is what being libertariantaoist is all about for me. If I had an audience with any would be leader, and I only had five minutes to talk to them, today’s chapter would be what I would offer up.
I have said it before, but I’ll say it again. I wasn’t the original libertariantaoist. That honor is Lao Tzu’s. And in today’s chapter he lays it out about as plainly as it can be. No mystery, no metaphors.
If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. Would be leaders who won’t first learn how to follow, will never be great leaders. Oh, you might become a despotic ruler, if you work real hard at it. But rulers are not leaders. And when you get right down to it, they never really wanted to be anything but what they are.
They want to be in control. That is their driving ambition. Leaders are important. We need leaders. And aspiring to be a leader, especially a great one, is a very good and noble thing. But you are going to have to stop trying to control. Rulers have the need to control because without that ability to control, they have no power. Their authority doesn’t come naturally. It has been usurped.
And while we need great leaders. We do not have any need for rulers. If you let go of fixed plans and concepts, you will find that the world will govern itself. It doesn’t need you to govern it. All fixed plans and concepts do is muck up the process. Central authorities breed the need for themselves. So, they aren’t just unnecessary; they are detrimental to the livelihood of every being on the planet.
For me, this is just common sense. Or, self-evident truths. It shouldn’t have to be explained. Or defended. It is the way things are. This is the eternal reality of which Lao Tzu has been talking all along. The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be. The more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be. I think the majority of us, when we read these lines, agree with Lao Tzu; and, we scratch our heads in bewilderment that our rulers don’t understand this.
But I never do feel like I fall in with majority opinion. Oh, I do agree with Lao Tzu. Wholeheartedly. But I am not at all bewildered that our rulers don’t understand this. I believe they understand, all too well. But, they can’t leave the world to govern itself. They can’t stop trying to control. And, they aren’t about to learn to follow the Tao.
Rulers need to be adding more and more prohibitions each and every day. Do they care that the results won’t be more virtuous people? Not at all. That just gives them an excuse to add more prohibitions. Rulers need more and more weapons. They have the need to maintain their fragile control over the masses of people that far outnumber them. No, the people don’t feel more secure. But that is all the better. They want the people to feel less secure. They want them to be very afraid. Finally, rulers don’t want self-reliant people. Self-reliant people are a great danger to rulers. The rulers know this is true. That is why rulers breed dependence on subsidies. And don’t think that that word subsidies only refer to assistance for the very poor. Corporate subsidies breed the same dependence. And for the same reasons. It is always about the need to control.
The Master is not such a control freak. Which is why the Master is our ideal. The Master understands that to be a great leader you need to first be a great follower. Not having a mind of his own. And instead, working with the mind of the people. Leading by serving. Taking the lowest place. Serving as an example.
When you learn to follow the Tao, none of this appears counter-intuitive any longer. If you let go of the law, people become honest. If you let go of economics, people become prosperous. If you let go of religion, people become serene.
When we aren’t following the Tao, we think that there have to be laws, rules, of some sort. Anything short of that would be anarchy, chaos. Rulers love to scare us with the imagined threat of a world without the need for their laws, their rules, a world without rulers. But when you learn to follow the Tao, you find your virtue inside yourself, the only place it ever was.
When we aren’t following the Tao, we think we have to have some system of economics. We get into huge fights over each one of the various “isms” and everyone is so damned confident that theirs, and only theirs, is the right one. Lao Tzu says, let it go. When you learn to follow the Tao, you will find yourself prosperous.
When we aren’t following the Tao, we cling to religion. We are looking for answers, maybe in all the wrong places. This is the hardest one of them all for me to write about. For I have family and friends who I simply don’t want to offend right here. I guess the greatest problem that I have with your religion is that it causes you to take offense; when Lao Tzu says, let it go. When you learn to follow the Tao, you will find yourself serene. Isn’t that what you were looking for all along? Is what you are clinging to helping? If not, let it go.
This last one is probably the greatest one of them all. The desire for the common good. We do so want to promote the common good, don’t we? Our rulers certainly insist that is all they want for all of us. And Lao Tzu tells us to let go of all desire for the common good. Let it go. The desire for it certainly has never resulted in it becoming common. Never before in the history of humanity will you find it. Let it go. Then, and only then, will the good become as common as grass. But you will only find that is the way things are, when you learn to follow the Tao.