Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead they are brittle and dry.
Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
I really have been less than gracious the last couple of days with my posts. I have been easily annoyed lately; and, I sometimes fail to temper what I want to say with the needed grace. I am not so much apologizing for what I said, as the tone with which I said it. The good news is that Lao Tzu is giving me one more shot at making my point sans the sarcasm.
Lao Tzu has been stressing the problem that we, as would be leaders, face in trying to guide people. People think they know the answers already. And, they don’t know that they don’t know. Yesterday, I even went so far as to say that Jonathan Gruber was right when he said that the American voter is stupid. That wasn’t very gracious of me; and, it wasn’t entirely accurate, either. The American voter isn’t actually stupid. There just aren’t any justifiable reasons to be as educated as you would have to be, to know everything you would have to know. But the powers that be, do treat us as if we are stupid. And, they are counting on our stupidity. Otherwise, all their power is exposed as the sham it is. If I really believed we were stupid, I couldn’t get away with agreeing with Lao Tzu that people can be trusted to find their own way.
Still, the presumption that we know, when we don’t, is a real problem. And, there are two diametrically opposed ways of dealing with that problem. Jonathan Gruber, and his ilk, see the problem, and wish to take advantage of the situation. “If the people really knew, we wouldn’t be able to get away with our obfuscation; but they don’t, so we can. Lao Tzu takes a different tack. He is training would be leaders, not to deceive or manipulate, but to guide. Yes, people can easily be misled, deceived, manipulated. But, real leaders can guide in such a way that people can easily find their own way.
We were talking a couple of chapters ago about letting go of things that we have been holding on to. We don’t like change. And, we resist it with every thing we’ve got. But Lao Tzu gently reminds us that if, instead of resisting, we let go of those things, we will ultimately find that there is nothing we can’t achieve.
He compared it to not being afraid of dying. The ultimate change. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu talks of life and death. Once again, he is encouraging us to let go.
I think the gist of what Lao Tzu is asking of us today is, “Are you going to be a disciple of life, or a disciple of death?” He returns to one of his favorite metaphors, that of the newborn. Remember how you started your life. You were born soft and supple. Plants were born that way too. Tender and pliant. We need to remember where we have come from and continue to be that same way: soft and yielding. That is being a disciple of life.
It should only be in death that we become stiff and hard, brittle and dry. The stiff and inflexible, those that won’t let go of all the things that are holding them back, are disciples of death. Lao Tzu doesn’t want us fearing death. But, he certainly doesn’t want us embracing it, while we can still be very much alive. It is the fear of death that holds us back. We won’t let go because of that fear. And that just hastens death’s onset. Let go, and live.