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 becomes common as grass.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 57, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Hooray! We got back around to one of my favorite chapters in the Tao Te Ching. This one is always a welcome sight for me. One reason, is because it gives me an opportunity to rant a little bit about our rulers. That will be part of my commentary today. But, there really seems little that any of us can do about our rulers. I am certainly endeavoring to wait them out. Their plans are sure to come to naught in the long run. But, in the long run, we’ll all be dead. So, what can we do in the short run? That is something that I think we can be positive about.
So, let’s begin. Lao Tzu addresses today’s chapter to those who want to be a great leader. Not just a mediocre leader, but a great one. Here begins Lao Tzu’s words of advice for those of us that want to be a great leader. First things first. If you want to be a great leader, you must first learn how to follow the Tao. Following the Tao puts following first. But, what are we following? The Tao. We have been talking a lot about the Tao. And we began with a warning that anything that we say about the Tao is not the eternal Tao. So, that does present a challenge. But, I do think it is safe to say that the Tao is the natural Way. If you are going against nature, you are going against the current of the Tao, rather than with it. The Tao leads great leaders. Would be leaders who won’t first learn how to follow, will never be great leaders. You might become a despotic ruler. But rulers are not leaders. At least not Lao Tzu’s definition of leadership, which is that of humble examples of service.
Great leaders are not about controlling. And when Lao Tzu is talking about not controlling, he means both people and outcomes. This is something our rulers simply can’t abide. Their driving ambition is to be in control. They want to control people and they want to control outcomes. Because their attempts to control people and outcomes are being thwarted all the time, they do tend to become despotic. The more out of control people and things are, the more they want to control them. They are going against the current of the Tao. And, because they are not following the natural flow of things, their authority is not anything natural. And, that means their power will be exposed as the illusion it is, in the end.
We need great leaders. We have no need for rulers. That will become obvious as we continue. If you want to be a great leader, follow the Tao and stop trying to control. But there is more. Now, we get to the nitty gritty of leading. The intricate details. And what does Lao Tzu have to say about that? Great leaders are always prepared to let go of fixed plans and concepts. Wait, I have such grand plans and concepts. Why would I ever let go of them? Why? Because contrary to what our rulers want us to believe. We don’t need them. The world can and will govern itself.
Those last seven words are the most important words I am going to type today. The world can and will govern itself. Oh, things aren’t going to go according to your fixed plans and concepts. And things and people are not going to be controlled by you. But, if you are following the Tao, as all great leaders do, then you will see the truth for yourself. We don’t need rulers because the world can and will govern itself. It got along just fine before we had rulers. And, it will get along just fine when the last ruler is but dust.
There isn’t a ruler alive, or one that ever lived, that would accept this truth. The world can and will govern itself. “Well, if that were the case, what need for me?” Exactly. Your steadfast refusal to follow the Tao. Your constant need to be in control. All your fixed plans and concepts, you know the ones, the ones the streets of Hell are paved with. All these things are why the world is in the mess it is in.
The more prohibitions you have made, the less virtuous people have become. Not that that makes you pause and reconsider your folly. No, you just make more prohibitions. And, when that just makes things worse? You just make some more.
You keep making people less and less virtuous, and your power and authority, being the ephemeral things they are, are constantly in danger. So, you increase the number of weapons that you have. Must protect your power and authority. You certainly aren’t adding to the security of the people. The more weapons you have, the less secure they are. And, with good reason. That is your end game.
Prohibitions and weapons aren’t enough though. Now, is when you really screw the masses of people. Now is when you start offering subsidies. And what a devilish grin you have as you do so. For you know the end result all too well. The subsidies, like the prohibitions and the weapons are not intended to help the people. The whole point of the subsidies is to make them dependent on you. This is true whether we are talking about subsidizing the working poor or corporations. Subsidies breed dependence. People become less and less self-reliant. For you, that is a good thing. They need you. Which means they won’t threaten your very existence. But it isn’t good for the people. What will become of the people when your whole system collapses? As it inevitably will.
Well, I have been writing those last few paragraphs as if Lao Tzu were speaking to our rulers. But he wasn’t. He is speaking to would be great leaders. And that is where the rest of us come in. We do need to understand the lessons of the rulers. Because there are things that we need to let go of. All eyes turn to each one of us. What are we afraid to let go of?
That is where the Master is content to serve as an example for us all. Remember, the Master is following the Tao. The Master understands the world can and will govern itself. And now, we see demonstrated how the world does just that.
If we let go of the law, people will become honest. Don’t be afraid. Let go of it. See how the world governs itself.
If we let go of economics, people will become prosperous. This one is of special interest to me, because on tumblr, I am witness to the constant struggle between capitalists, socialists, and communists on why their fixed plans and concepts are the only way to right all the wrongs in the world. You are all right; and, you are all wrong. All the problems that I can see with capitalism, socialism, and communism are tied to the State. It is the problem of state capitalism, state socialism, and state communism with which we should all agree. Get rid of the State and let individuals join together in community to see how their own individual ideas work with or go against the current of the Tao. Be prepared to let go of your own fixed plans and concepts. And that means economics, too. Go ahead, don’t be afraid. Let it go. The world can govern itself. All the people can prosper again.
If we let go of religion, people will become serene. Is Lao Tzu saying we all need to be atheists? No, I don’t think so. What he is talking about is the need to control. We need to coexist. And that doesn’t begin with the other guy. It begins with me. Let it go.
Let go of all desire for the common good. Perhaps this last one is the hardest one of all. Why? Because we are good people. And, because we are good people, we strongly desire the common good. But desires are dangerous things. We need to let go of all desires. And, that means all desire for the common good, too. But there is good news. The world can and will govern itself. And the common good? Once we have let go of all desire for it, the good becomes as common as grass.