Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
Simplicity, Patience, Compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 67, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
As I promised yesterday, today’s post is going to address the criticism that Lao Tzu’s teaching is either nonsense, or lofty but impractical. Not only is that what today’s chapter in the Tao Te Ching is about, it is also how I have been feeling in the last few days about my experiences as I have been going down my own news feed on my personal Facebook. Timing really is everything. It never ceases to amaze me how timely these chapters are in my everyday life.
I even posted on my own Facebook feed about the crossroads that I feel that I am at. It highlights the stark differences for me between my tumblr blog and my Facebook. And I don’t mean to disparage my Facebook family, friends, and acquaintances in this post. I post this link every morning to Facebook, in the hopes of reaching out to a very different audience from my tumblr followers. And I understand completely the very different audiences these two social mediums reach.
With tumblr, I get to choose what is going to appear on my dashboard. I choose who to follow very deliberately. It isn’t that I am limiting who I follow to those that agree with me. But I do limit it to people that are engaged enough in the political process that even if I don’t agree with you 100 percent of the time, I at least think you are being thoughtful (I mean full of thought, not necessarily caring); and, I can respect that you have engaged in some measure of critical thinking to arrive at your opinions. I don’t know the vast majority of you, personally. And that means, when you are posting outrageous content, I can very easily ignore you.
Facebook is an entirely different beast. With Facebook, the purpose is for me to stay connected with people I actually have come to know (usually personally) over my many years. Some of those people I have known for thirty, forty, or even 50 years. It is impossible to interact in any meaningful way other than through Facebook. And there is a wide spectrum of political and philosophical belief systems that are expressed there; most of which, to put it frankly, are so outside what I have come to believe is actual reality, that I can’t begin to engage in meaningful dialog with more than a small handful of them. The cognitive dissonance that I encounter as I scroll down my Facebook news feed is so palpable that I sometimes want to vomit.
Lao Tzu has been talking about the need for humility in leaders. And humility is probably for me, both the highest of virtues, and the one I feel about as far removed from as I can possibly be. I don’t often bare my soul to anyone else, let alone publicly, but I am baring my soul with this post today. Anyone that knows me personally, knows that I like to use self-deprecating humor all of the time. And, I suspect that many of you that know me casually, probably think I do that because I have a very low self esteem. Au contraire. The demon that I have always wrestled with, at least all of my adult life, has never been with too low an opinion of myself. It has always been that I have too high an opinion of myself. What frustrates me as I scroll down Facebook, is that I start to feel superior. And that is not a demon I want to feed. Because I believe very strongly in the need for humility.
And that is why I entertain the idea from time to time that I just want to delete my Facebook profile and be done with the lot of you. Now, I was much more gracious in my post yesterday on Facebook. And I consequently had comments, private messages, and even phone calls, from family and friends, asking me to not leave. To that outpouring of support, I would like to offer my deepest and most humble gratitude.
I won’t leave. I am going to simply have to figure out a way to avoid being “triggered” by ignorant posts and comments. I have always believed very strongly in education. That education was the cure for ignorance. And, because I think so highly of myself, I thought where I encountered ignorance, I would just need to counter it with education.
But, as I continue to glean the lessons that Lao Tzu taught so many centuries ago, I have come to understand that the problem isn’t so much that the people don’t know, as that they don’t know that they don’t know. And, for this level of ignorance the answer isn’t education. It is teaching people to not-know. At least that is how Lao Tzu puts it.
The point of my posts is not to educate and to inform. It is to kindly lead you to a realization that you don’t know. Or, to put it a different way, to know that you don’t know. That requires the humility that Lao Tzu has been talking about. The humility that I consider the highest of virtues, simply because I haven’t attained it.
Lao Tzu’s point in writing the Tao Te Ching is to train leaders in the art of living; so, they can be good leaders. He got the same kind of reactions to his teachings that I feel I get, having adopted philosophical taoism for myself. Some people think it is pure nonsense. Others call it lofty, but they don’t see its practical value. What can I say or do to address this criticism?
All I can really DO is model the art of living for all the world to see. All I can really SAY is that for those of us who have looked inside themselves, this nonsense makes perfect sense. And, for those of us that have put it into practice, this loftiness has roots that go deep. You think it is impractical when you haven’t even tried it? And, I think it is impractical to continue living your life doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result.
Lao Tzu has just three things to teach. Just three, and no more. And he calls these our three greatest treasures. If, we will look for, and find them, inside ourselves. What are they? The treasure of being simple in our actions and our thoughts. The treasure of being patient with both our friends and our enemies. And, the treasure of being compassionate toward ourselves.
These are treasures that I need to find inside myself. I am not just pointing fingers at all of you. I am writing this excellent advice to myself. It is me, first of all, that needs to know that I don’t know. That is the position of humility I am going for.
When I practice true simplicity, I return to the source of being. When I practice true patience, I accord with the way things are. And, when I practice true compassion, I reconcile all beings in the world. That is the mark of a true leader. It is the pinnacle. And, no matter how highly I regard myself, I always see that pinnacle a way’s off, and much higher.