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)
This post is not going to be about what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri. After spending a great deal of time today, scrolling down my dashboard, I was shaken as if out of a dream. It happened as I read through two different posts I encountered in my scrolling. The first was an article that I didn’t reblog, but if you are interested, you would find by searching on bleeding heart libertarian. The author was making the moral case for killing agents of the State. That shook me awake. I am not saying that I endorse the author’s viewpoints. I simply found the article sufficiently disturbing to wake me up. The second article I encountered almost immediately afterward. It was a video produced by, I believe, truth stream media, and the gist of the video was that Ferguson proves predictive programming works. That video reminded me what I had kind of figured out back in the early days after the Michael Brown shooting, but I had been lulled back to sleep over the course of the next four months. Anyway, like I said, this post isn’t going to be about what is going on in Ferguson. I just wanted to report that I, too, am easily manipulated, to my great shame.
Now, to today’s chapter. If you have been keeping track, today would be part three on how to be a great leader. Lao Tzu has taken a break from speaking of the mysterious Tao; and, he is now showing how to apply it in a practical way to the art of governing.
To recap what we have covered before. The world can govern itself. We don’t need rulers. But, we do need leaders. And great ones would really be appreciated. We have talked about the will to power and how it is that, that produces rulers. And we have contrasted a country that is governed with tolerance with a country that is governed with repression. Lao Tzu is seeking out people who will be content to serve as an example, and won’t impose their will.
Today, Lao Tzu begins by saying that if you want to govern a country well, nothing beats moderation. And then he proceeds to tell us the marks of a moderate person. So, let’s cover those, one by one.
The first mark of a moderate person is freedom from their own ideas. What does freedom mean? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that you don’t have any of your own ideas. You are certainly free to have your own ideas. And, have them, you do. But you aren’t a slave to them. What Lao Tzu is telling us is that the difference between a moderate and an immoderate person is that freedom. The immoderate person is plagued with a certainty that keeps them enslaved. They can’t see other ways of looking at things. It’s their way or no way, no how. The moderate person certainly has their own ideas; but, they have freed themselves from their own mind; and, they are able to work with the mind of the people.
The second mark of a moderate person is their tolerance. We talked a little bit about tolerance yesterday. Lao Tzu told us the benefits of a country that is governed with tolerance: the people are comfortable and honest. But you can govern a country with tolerance without being yourself, a tolerant person. Still, to save yourself from the contortions you would have to put yourself through to not govern according to your own nature, it would be well, if you let go of your own intolerance. Lao Tzu says the moderate person is tolerant like the sky. What does he mean by that? I think he means that the sky is the limit of your tolerance. Or to put it another way, your tolerance is without limits.
The third mark of a moderate person is that they are all-pervading like sunlight. Pervading means to become spread throughout all parts of something. The prefix “all-” would almost seem to be superfluous, but adding the “like sunlight” certainly sets the tone for us. This is a good kind of pervading. Just like when morning first breaks on the horizon, and the sun’s brilliant light spreads across the sky. A moderate person is infectious. With a good kind of infection.
The fourth mark of a moderate person is that they are firm like a mountain. Remember that first mark, which is freedom from their own ideas. I said then, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own ideas. And with this fourth mark, we confirm that; with, they are firm like a mountain. Mountains are not easily moved. Though they can be, with great effort. Firmness is not necessarily a quality that we would classically associate with a moderate person. But Lao Tzu says, oh, but they are.
The fifth mark of a moderate person kind of goes hand in hand with the fourth. It is that they are supple like a tree in the wind. This is a nice distinction between a mountain and a tree. When the wind blows, a mountain stands firm. But a tree? Well, a tree is a different kind of firm. And we see how it is different when the wind starts to blow. It is firm, yet supple. That is what will keep the tree from breaking. And that is the mark of a moderate person. They aren’t blown to and fro by the winds, in such a way that they become uprooted. But they can bend. They are flexible. And that means they can stand firm.
The sixth mark of a moderate person is that they have no destination in view. This seems to me just about the craziest of ideas, yet. If you don’t have any destination in view, how are you ever going to get wherever you are going? What does Lao Tzu mean? But, of course, this isn’t something Lao Tzu hasn’t been talking of all along. It is about centering ourselves in the Tao and being in harmony with the Tao. Am I really going to, after all of this time, choose my own path and my own destination? Or, am I really going to let go, and be free?
When you don’t have any destination in view, you can make use of anything that life happens to bring your way. That is a defining mark of a moderate person. Nothing is impossible for them. Because they have let go. And now? Now, they can really care for the people’s welfare. Just like a mother cares for her own children. That, my friends, is how a country is governed well.