Setting The Bar High

The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.

The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The way of the Master is our example for how to lead people. We have talked about Lao Tzu’s lessons for governing (leading) a lot, throughout the Tao Te Ching, and he still has plenty to say. Today, he is focusing on being an example for the people. How does the Master do it? She has no mind of her own. But let’s keep this in context. It isn’t just that she doesn’t have her own mind. For she does. But in leading, she works with the mind of the people. Often, as leaders, I think we slip up right here. We have our own mind. Our own agenda, and to Hell with what anyone else thinks. But the Master is always thinking about the mind of the people. What is on their minds? How can I lead them?

Some people are just naturally good. It is easy to be good to them. It hardly requires anything of us to be good to those who are good. To those, in particular, who are good to us. But a leader who is only good to those who are good, isn’t demonstrating true goodness. What you are really doing is paying back goodness. Not a bad thing. You ought to be good to people who are good. What, are you going to repay them with evil? No, that wouldn’t be good, either.

But Lao Tzu sets the bar a little bit higher. It isn’t enough just to be good to those who deserve it. If you want to demonstrate true goodness, you need to do what requires more of us. True goodness requires that you are also good to those who aren’t good. I didn’t say it was going to be easy. It is hard. What would be easy, is repaying evil with evil. That is the easiest thing to do. But to demonstrate true goodness, to serve as an example of true goodness, you need to do the hardest, rather than the easiest, thing. You have to be good to them, as well. That is working with the mind of the people.

The same can be said for an example of true trust. Merely trusting people who are worthy of your trust isn’t really trusting them, at all. True trust requires an element of faith. Saying, I trust you because I know I can trust you? If I know I can trust them, I really don’t have to give it a second thought. I can depend on them. I know I can.

But, what of people who have demonstrated to me that they are not worthy of my trust? Now, we are entering the danger zone. Now, is where faith comes in. When I say faith, I am not meaning it in a religious context. What I am meaning is stepping outside of your comfort zone. You don’t know what is out there. It might be good. It might be bad. But you won’t know until you step out. You could choose to stay where you know it is safe. In your comfort zone. But Lao Tzu is expecting something better of us. He is wanting us, as leaders, to be an example of true trust.

True trust may sound foolhardy to you. These people have already proven how untrustworthy they are. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Yes, I get it. But this isn’t about being fooled. The Master is working with the mind of the people. She knows exactly what she is dealing with here. So, why would I want to trust them? I trust them, knowing they aren’t trustworthy, to demonstrate, not only to them, but to all the people, what true trust is. Because, as I said before, trusting someone that you can trust isn’t trust, at all. Only if they can’t be trusted, can you demonstrate true trust, by trusting them.

Like I said, this isn’t easy. It is hard. Very hard. But virtue wouldn’t be virtue if it was easy. The bar is high. Still, we can do this. If we couldn’t do it, it wouldn’t be virtue, it would just be impossible. And we aren’t talking about the impossible here. Just the very hard.

The Master’s mind is like space, Lao Tzu says. It is so above the ordinary. It is truly extraordinary. But extraordinary doesn’t mean I can’t do it. Ordinary minds just don’t get it. They see it as folly, and laugh out loud. But, while we may be amazed at the mind of the Master, and not understand her; still, people will look to her and wait. That is exactly the position the Master, as leader, is needing to be. Now, is where her example demonstrates her wisdom. She treats them like her own children. Not like children, but like her own children. She loves them and cares for them, just as she would her own children. That is the way of the Master.

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