Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We have been talking about how vital our relationship with the world is. Not just the physical world, the Earth, but every being that inhabits it; including, of course, our fellow human beings. If we want to be one with the Tao, there are two things we must do: First, we must accept the world as it is. Second, we must accept ourselves, as we are. I said, yesterday, that acceptance is the basic yearning of every man, woman, and child. We simply must accept others, no matter how different from us they may seem to be. Accepting others is a key component in accepting ourselves. Why? Because we aren’t separate. We are all one in the Tao. When we refuse to accept others, we are not accepting ourselves. And when we refuse to accept ourselves, we can’t accept others. Lao Tzu has said it before, but it bears repeating, where we get into trouble, is in seeing ourselves as separate. We must see the world as ourselves. When we accept the world as ourselves, when we truly accept ourselves, the whole world accepts us.
Now, along those lines, yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about accepting the world in terms of relying on the Tao in “governing” men. I said that word, governing, could easily be translated as “interacting with” and, with that in mind, Lao Tzu says that whoever relies on the Tao doesn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. Then he brought in an elementary law of physics, the law of the Tao, “For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well-intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.”
That is the perfect segue into today’s chapter, where Lao Tzu begins by identifying “weapons” as “the tools of violence and fear.” Because weapons are the tools of violence, because violence always rebounds on the violent, because what we do to others we do to ourselves, how people choose to use weapons is a litmus test for human decency. Lao Tzu insists that human decency demands that we detest weapons. “Detest” is a strong word. But, because weapons are the tools of violence, it is appropriate. To the extent that weapons are used as the tools of violence, I do detest them. Decency requires that of me and you. Violence is something to be abhorred. When a violent person takes up a weapon and uses it to inflict violence on others, we are right to detest the use of that tool.
Then, when referring to weapons as the tools of fear, Lao Tzu says that decent people will avoid them, except in direst necessity, only if compelled, and only with the utmost restraint. I want to reiterate what Lao Tzu has said before: Fear is a phantom. It arises because people are thinking of themselves as separate.
Now this chapter is timely, given that we have seen weapons being used as tools of violence and fear, a lot lately. Human decency demands that we detest this. And we rightly do. But today’s chapter is also timely because it highlights the importance of decent people. People who have peace as their highest value. People who could never be content that the peace has been shattered. People that know their enemies are not demons, but human beings just like themselves. People that don’t wish another human being harm. People who don’t rejoice in victory. How could they take delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children? People complain a lot about a lack of decency, these days. But this is our real litmus test for human decency right here. All the other things that people complain are indecent, pale in comparison to this.
I have been saddened a lot, lately, as I have scrolled various social media posts. Human decency seems in very short supply. People not accepting of other people, and so, not accepting of themselves. People getting their panties in a wad over symbols, and ignoring the substance. It really saddens me, both those that are making the tragedy at the AME church in Charleston about removing Confederate flags wherever they can be found, and those who are rushing to defend that flag. It is just a symbol, folks!
And I have been more saddened as I saw some of the responses to Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, regarding same sex marriage. Here is a post I found on Facebook Saturday morning. By a person I grew up with that is pining away for the good old days:
“The country is so messed up today that it makes me glad to be old, because I feel blessed in the time I grew up in. When I was a kid: Parents could be parents No seat belts You could ride in the back of a truck and on the tailgate We had Christmas parties at school We played outside You could sit “Indian style” and nobody was offended Said The Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school We were taught to have pride in our country We were taught to respect authority Dates were between a female and a male (no I am not homophobic) History was history no matter how bad or good it was Everybody I knew believed in God. The food at the school cafeteria wasn’t determined by the first lady Thank you Lord for letting me be raised in the time I was.”
Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I have been seeing a lot of these kinds of posts. And it saddens me. It saddens me because people can’t seem to accept the world the way it is. Sometimes they pine for the good old days. But mostly they just seem to think we are “going to Hell in a hand basket.” One of my other friends posted a quote from the Bible. Specifically, Romans, chapter one, where Paul described the Godlessness that invited the Lord’s wrath, saying “The Gates of Hell have opened in America today.”
Now, I don’t mean to offend, seriously, I don’t mean this to offend. But to your litany of things about the good old days, I could add a few of my own: “Ah, the good old days. When women knew their place. And “niggers” weren’t uppity. But if they ever were, we had ways of dealing with them. When “faggots” didn’t dare come out of the closet, because if they did, if we ever suspected they were anything but normal, we’d beat the living daylights out of them. When everyone we knew were white and Christians. And they knew we were Christians by our love, by our love, yes they knew we were Christians by our love.”
Yes, I am saddened. Because this just isn’t right. And I hate to be the one to have to say it, but Jesus never had a kind word for you religious zealots. He was there, always there, for the outcasts, for the “sinners” but when it came to the religious crowd of his day, which is much like the religious crowd of our day, his words and actions were full of righteous indignation.
I apologize if my words have offended. But I needed to make a point. Words are weapons too. They are used just as much as tools of violence and fear, as any other weapons. And it isn’t decent that we use them as such. What it shows is a lack of human decency. I am not pining away for the good old days, because I don’t think those fabled good old days had any greater claim to human decency than today has. Still, there is one thing that I do know: we used to enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if we were attending a funeral.
What the world needs now, more than ever, is decent people. We, each of us, need to be decent people.