The Value of Not-Knowing

The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 65, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Value of Not-Knowing

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was talking about having nothing, desiring nothing, and unlearning. That is, returning to our primal identity. In an earlier chapter, Lao Tzu pointed at a newborn and said, be like that. Having nothing and desiring nothing seems straightforward enough. But, what about unlearning? That is the topic of today’s chapter.

Instead of trying to educate people, the ancient Masters kindly taught them to not-know. Notice, Lao Tzu calls this a kindness. And, the reasons it was a kindness, he explains in the next stanza.

People are difficult to guide, when they think they know the answers. But, when they know that they don’t know, people can find their own way.

Notice, here, that the ancient Masters weren’t trying to keep people ignorant. They did want them to know. And, what the people needed to know is that they don’t know. That word, guide, doesn’t mean force or coerce, either. Guiding is actually quite passive, here. For, the whole point of the people knowing they don’t know is so they can then find their own way.

Now, Lao Tzu brings this all back to my favorite topic in the Tao Te Ching, the art of governing. The value of not-knowing in governing, Gary Johnson take heart, is if you want to learn how to govern, you want to avoid being clever or rich.

Being clever, thinking you know, is the antithesis to knowing not-knowing. And their own cleverness gets our leaders, and would-be leaders, in trouble all of the time. The simplest pattern is the clearest. But the clever often fail to grasp the most simple thing.

And, if our leaders weren’t so tainted by riches, they could be an example to show all people the way back to their own true nature, being content with an ordinary life.

All the Ways We Can Fail, and How Not to Fail

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 64, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

All the Ways We Can Fail, and How Not to Fail

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu continues on from where he left off, in yesterday’s chapter, about putting into practice being one with the Tao. Yesterday, his emphasis was on confronting the difficult while it is easy; so today, he begins with four things which are easy to do:

It is easy to nourish something which is rooted. It is easy to correct a recent mistake. It is easy to break that which is brittle. And, It is easy to scatter something small.

We see, by these examples, what is easy cuts both ways. It can be a good thing, like when we want to nourish or correct something. But, it can also be a bad thing, like things which are easily broken or scattered.

Yet, the lessons we can glean from these truisms are the same: Prevent trouble before it arises. Put things in order before they exist. These are perfectly illustrated with the familiar, because they are the most often quoted, metaphors of where the giant pine tree comes from, and where the journey of a thousand miles begins.

When we fail here, as we often do, it is because we aren’t being good at being one with the Tao. Oh, we are still one with the Tao. As I have said before, being one with the Tao is our birthright. And, the Tao is a treasure to us when we are good at it. But, when we fail, when we make a mistake, when we are bad at being one with the Tao, it is still there for us, as a refuge.

That, of course, is good news. But, failure isn’t the goal. The goal is to be good at being one with the Tao. And, Lao Tzu, the old Master, himself, is showing us how we can fail, so we won’t.

Rushing into action, we fail. Trying to grasp things, we lose them. Forcing a project to completion, we ruin what was almost ripe. That is how we can fail. Now, for how not to fail. Here, the wise and virtuous Master shows us the way.

Take action by letting things take their course. Remain as calm at the end, as you were at the beginning. Have nothing; then, you have nothing to lose. Desire nothing. Unlearn.

What Lao Tzu is doing, here, is simply reminding us of who we have always been. What we were in the beginning. Our origin. By caring about nothing but the Tao, you can truly care for all things. After all, it is in the Tao, our Source, that all things are connected, and one.

How to Put It Into Practice

Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
thus problems are no problem for her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 63, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How to Put It into Practice

Yesterday, I said being one with the Tao isn’t something we have to achieve, or ever could achieve. We already are one with the Tao. It is our birthright, as children of the Tao. But, that still leaves us with the question of how do we put this into practice in our lives. Today’s chapter is the answer.

Act without doing. That is the practice of the Tao. It is the ancient Chinese practice of Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. And, we have talked about this many times before. Here, Lao Tzu is talking about effortless action: Work without effort.

And, he tells us how to work without effort. It begins with how we think about things. Think of the small as large, and the few as many. Lao Tzu is telling us not to underestimate the task before us. Even the smallest of tasks, and no matter how few they may be, don’t think of them in that light. If you want your actions to be without effort, you want to confront what is difficult while it is still easy. So, think of the little as big. Then, you can break it down into little steps. By doing so, you will be able to accomplish a great task, by a series of small acts.

Those who are wise never reach for the great. Yes, I know that defies the conventional wisdom. But the “actually” wise never subscribed to the conventional wisdom. They understood, if we are reaching, we are trying to exceed our limits; and doing so, we will fail. We are talking about being one with the Tao, here. The wise achieve greatness, not by reaching for it, but by breaking down the great task into a series of small acts.

So, what happens when you run into a difficulty? How do you deal with it? Here is another way we will often fail. This isn’t the time for throwing yourself a pity party. But, even those who have stronger constitutions than that, still may fail, right here. Repeatedly running up against that wall, insisting on doing the same things over and over again. Stop it!

Be like the wise. When you run into a difficulty, stop, and give yourself to it. What does that mean? First of all, taking a break is definitely in order. You want to be at the top of your game, not worn out, not frustrated. This is a productive break. You are looking at things from a different perspective, pulled a bit away from the task at hand. Get others’ suggestions. Yes, you need to be humble enough to admit you need help. And, don’t be afraid to accept that you probably didn’t break this great task down into enough small acts, in the first place.

If you don’t cling to your own comfort, here – in other words, be willing to admit your failings, and do whatever it takes to correct those failings – problems will be no problem for you. Then, you can re-approach the difficulty, fresh; and, one small act at a time, get the job done.

Once You Realize This, You’ll Love It, Too

The Tao is the center of the Universe,
the good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.

Honors can be bought with fine words,
respect can be won with good deeds;
but the Tao is beyond all value,
and no one can achieve it.

Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
Offer instead
to teach him about the Tao.

Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek you find;
and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 62, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Once You Realize This, You’ll Love It, Too

In yesterday’s chapter, I laid out what we should demand of our would-be leaders. We should demand that they be humble. We should demand that they surround themselves with advisers who will point out their faults; who will help them to realize when they have made a mistake, help them to admit it, and help them to correct it. We should demand that they center our country in the Tao. But, given the crop of would-be leaders we have before us, that would seem to be a pretty tall order.

Still, I am not giving up, just yet.

It is, of course, election season, here in the US. And, Lao Tzu has some sage advice, not just for would-be leaders, but for all of us, when we have the opportunity to choose a new leader: Don’t offer to help them with your wealth or expertise. Instead, offer to teach them about the Tao. Consider today’s chapter commentary, my reaching out to those who would lead us, with teaching about the Tao.

The Tao is the center of the Universe. I like how Robert Brookes puts it in his own interpretation: “The Tao is the source of the way things flow.” For those who are good, this Source is a treasure. And, for those who are bad, it is a refuge. Honors can be bought, and respect can be won, but the Tao? It is beyond all value. Here, I imagine some one trying to negotiate with a mafia figure, and being told, “Forget about it.” Your wealth, your expertise, will never cut it.

If that sounds just a bit discouraging, good. I think that is exactly the point. Lao Tzu doesn’t want us trusting what we think we know, or what we can do. He wants us to find our center in the Tao. It isn’t something we can achieve. But, and here is the really good news, it isn’t something we have to achieve. Remember what he said earlier. For those who are good, it is a treasure. And, for those who aren’t, it is a refuge. You don’t have to earn it. You couldn’t possibly earn it, if you had to.

And, this is why those who were wise and virtuous, in ancient times, esteemed it so. When you are one with the Tao, when you seek you find; and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.

I used to read that and say to myself, “But how do I become one with the Tao?” And, once again, that is a misunderstanding of the way things flow in our universe. It isn’t about what we know, or what we do. It is about who, or what, we are. Every being in the Universe is already one with the Tao. It is our source for everything. If you can realize this, you will readily see why everybody loves it. And, you will love it, too.

What We Should Demand of Our Would-Be Leaders

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 61, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What We Should Demand of Our Would-Be Leaders

Yesterday, Lao Tzu compared governing a large country to frying a small fish, saying “You spoil it with too much poking.” Then, he went on to address how to deal with the problem of evil: Center your country in the Tao. Today, he continues talking about great nations and great leaders. And, he tells us exactly what he means by a nation centered in the Tao.

For today’s chapter, Lao Tzu returns to his favorite metaphor for talking about the Tao, water. When he says, “When a country obtains great power, it becomes like the sea”, he goes on to talk about the sea’s inherent humility.

I was talking to a friend, who happens to follow my blog, and he commented on how obvious it is I am enjoying these chapters where I get to rail against our would-be leaders. I can’t deny these “libertarian” chapters are my favorites, but I promised him, just a few more, then we will take a break from politics.

But not yet.

Lao Tzu is talking about humility, today. The more powerful a nation grows, the greater is its need for humility. But, what does humility mean? This is important for our would-be leaders to understand.

For Lao Tzu, humility means trusting the Tao; and, because of that trust, never needing to be defensive.

Why do we need to be on the defensive, anyway? The reason to be on the defensive is because you fear some aggressor, some enemy, is out to do you harm. This enemy wants to plunder and kill. Now, since war is the health of the State, as Randolph Bourne so correctly put it, the State needs enemies for a perpetual state of wars and rumors of wars. Otherwise, it is difficult to justify, not just the expansion, but the very existence of the State. Hence, the War Party, aka the Establishment, is running their candidate for US President, Hillary Clinton.

That Hillary will be the most war-mongering president of all time, if elected, should be self-evident. She is proud, unapologetic, and even giddy, about her war-mongering in the past. And, in every foreign policy speech, she promises to expand foreign interventions (read that as wars) as president. And, she seems hell-bent on re-igniting a cold war with Russia, comparing Putin with Hitler. But, because we are always given the illusion of choice, we are offered as the only allowable alternative, the “anti-establishment” (cough, cough) Donald Trump, who I guess, actually believing his own hate- and fear-mongering rhetoric, wants us all hiding behind a really great wall.

I think that just about sums the two up. And, it also should sum up our need to be defensive. If we were humble, if we trusted the Tao, we wouldn’t have to be. And, what is true of a nation is true for its individual leaders.

We need them to be humble! For, in order for one to be great, they must realize when they have made a mistake, admit it once they have realized it, and correct it, post haste.

Imagine, if you will, leaders who consider those who point out their faults as their most benevolent teachers. Yeah, I know. That really stretches the imagination. But, Lao Tzu isn’t finished. What if the aforementioned leaders thought of their enemy as the shadow they themselves cast. That is humility!

Lao Tzu keeps insisting we need to center our nation in the Tao. And, today, he tells us exactly what he means by that. A nation, centered in the Tao, nourishes its own people and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others. That nation, centered in the Tao, would be a light to all nations in the world.

That sounds, a whole lot, like the empty rhetoric we have heard from politicians for generations, now. But, why does it have to be empty? Center the nation in the Tao. That is what we should demand of our would-be leaders.

Like Frying a Small Fish

Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn’t there,
but you’ll be able to step out of its way.

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 60, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Like Frying a Small Fish

I posted an article from consortiumnews.com, yesterday. “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Exceptionalist’ Warpath” by Daniel Lazare. In the article, Mr. Lazare presents Hillary as being to the right of Trump with her promotion of “American Exceptionalism”, and the Donald as being “neo-isolationist”. Trump has said he doesn’t like the term American Exceptionalism because (in his own words) “I don’t have a very big ego, and I don’t need terms like that.”

I apologize if I caught you off guard with that quote. I should have warned you not to have just taken a drink or a bite of food before reading that the Donald said he doesn’t have a big ego.

The point of the article, I think, is that while the Donald doesn’t like the term “American exceptionalism”, since it hardly fits into his mantra, “Make America great again”, if America is already exceptional, Hillary is certainly making the most of it, since it fits right in with her war-mongering. As Donald sees things, America isn’t a bully, America is being bullied. And, Hillary certainly doesn’t see America as a bully. “America is great, because America is good.” Now, where have I heard that one before?

Meanwhile, I am left wondering how one of these is supposed to be the lesser of the two evils. Both candidates don’t perceive America as a bully. And, I can’t, in good conscience, agree with them on this point. Still, I guess it was the characterizing of Trump as “neo-isolationist”, which has me talking about the article, as it relates to today’s chapter.

For the briefest of moments I entertained the idea of launching into a discussion of what the prefix “neo” means. It it is quite in vogue to use it in political speech. And, I believe that, usually, it is used as a pejorative. Neo-conservatives, neo-liberals, neo-fascists, and, now, neo-isolationists. These are the “bad” guys. But, like I said, I only entertained the idea for the briefest of moments. As much as I would like to write countless words on that prefix, it wouldn’t have a thing to do with today’s chapter; so, I will leave that discussion for another time.

Instead, I really want to get to today’s chapter. Because, it wasn’t really the neo in front of isolationist that wound me up today. It was the word isolationist that did it. And, this doesn’t even have a thing to do with the Donald, either. Or, Hillary, for that matter. So, while I won’t fault you, if your mind wanders to them, while we continue to discuss the art of governing, believe me, I honestly care for either one of them just about as much as they would care to learn how to govern from Lao Tzu. That is, not at all.

Onward, then!

How many times do I have to say it? We are not isolationists! We are non-interventionists. There is a big difference. And, if you don’t know, or don’t care to know, the least you can do is not further the ignorance by adding that blasted “neo” in front of it. I guess I should just be happy I have never seen or heard “neo-non-interventionists”.

I mean, really, guys, that prefix neo really mucks things up.

But, I promised I wasn’t going to talk about that. So, on I go… back to the art of governing. Today, Lao Tzu compares governing a large country to frying a small fish. You. Spoil. It. With. Too. Much. Poking.

That isn’t a matter of isolating yourself from the fish when you are frying it. Duh! But, you won’t interfere with the natural process it is going through as it is frying. You won’t intervene and intervene, and interfere and interfere, and poke, poke, poke….

Why won’t you do these things? Because you don’t want to spoil it. I said this isn’t about Hillary or the Donald. I lied. I would really like them to understand this lesson on the art of governing. I am just not holding my breath.

If the art of governing requires that we don’t do too much poking, how exactly do we put this into practice?

Here it is: The only thing you have to do. Center your country in the Tao.

Oh, but we can’t possibly do that. The world “needs” us, (Hillary). The world has “taken advantage” of us, (the Donald). And, they will both insist that there is evil which must be poked. Of course, they don’t call it poking. But, they will insist that we must deal with the problem of evil. For Hillary, American exceptionalism requires that we intervene. For the Donald, only he can fix the problems that plague us, and trust him, he will be great.

But if anyone was truly serious about dealing with the problem of evil, they wouldn’t be poking at that hornet’s nest. They would be giving it a wide berth. If our country were centered in the Tao, evil would have no power. It would still be there. Sorry, no rosy promises about eliminating evil, once and for all. But, if you leave it alone, if you don’t poke at it, and antagonize it, you would be able to step out of its way.

Evil is a problem that has plagued us for all of recorded history. It isn’t going away anytime soon. But, us non-interventionists have a solution. A solution that sounds radical, since we have never quite tried it. Give evil nothing to oppose. Yes, you read that correctly. Evil thrives on attention, on opposition. Your opposition feeds it. Evil loves how America makes love to it, through making war with it. Do you like that one? I just made that one up. Goes way back to the Vietnam war era, make love not war. Let me know what you think of my play on words.

Just understand this one thing: You can’t make evil disappear! But, if you were to give it nothing to oppose, it would disappear all by itself.

The Case for Radical Moderation

For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

Nothing is impossible for him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for the people’s welfare
as a mother cares for her child.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 59, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Case for Radical Moderation

Just when I thought I had overcome the problems with the word tolerance, in yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu uses another much-maligned word, moderation, in today’s chapter. And, just as with toleration, we are going to have to tackle moderation with the same circumspect analysis.

Forget everything you think you know about moderation. That is the best place to start. Because, for governing a country well, Lao Tzu insists, nothing is better. And, if we have preconceived ideas of what moderation is, in practice, we may have a very hard time believing this is true. So, don’t let those get in the way. Onward! Let’s see what Lao Tzu means by moderation. Then, and only then, should we go back and see whether or not our preconceived ideas were right or wrong.

To tell of moderation, Lao Tzu turns to the example of a moderate person to show us. And, of course, he resorts to the use of metaphors. How better to picture it for us?

He begins by saying the mark of a moderate person is freedom from their own ideas. If you have been following along in these chapters with me, that should sound familiar. Moderation means freedom! If you are practicing moderation, you won’t be enslaved to your own ideas. And, you won’t be enslaved by the will to power.

You see, I have tended to view moderation, not as freedom from, but absence of, ideas. My view of the moderate person was of a person with their wet finger pointed toward the wind. A milquetoast, really. They will just go wherever the wind blows. But, they don’t have any core values to anchor them. And, this is just the kind of preconceived ideas we need to let go of.

It isn’t that the moderate person has no ideas. Nor, that they are without core values to anchor them. At least, that is the case with the moderation Lao Tzu is speaking of. What marks them is freedom from their own ideas. And, that begins with how tolerant they are. Yes, there is that word again. Tolerance plays a huge role in making them free. They are tolerant like the sky. Completely open to whatever the moment brings. Their tolerance is like sunlight. It is all-pervading. And, just like how Lao Tzu described tolerance in yesterday’s chapter, this enables them to be firm like a mountain, yet supple as a tree in the wind.

I think this is where I got the mistaken notion that they just have their finger to the wind, and choose their opinions based on whichever way the wind blows. But, it isn’t like that, at all. A tree doesn’t get blown about in that way. It has roots that go deep. Yet, it is flexible, and can bend.

We tend to think that you have to have some destination in view. Exactly, how are you going to get where you are going, or know when you get there, if you have no destination in view?

But, Lao Tzu is talking about freedom, here. They aren’t bound by their own fixed plans and concepts. They have let go of these. They have stopped trying to control. They are free! And, being free, they can make use of anything life happens to bring their way.

I want you to take a moment to think about this kind of freedom. If you are this kind of free, and you can make use of anything life happens to bring your way, nothing will be impossible for you.

This is why, for governing a country well, nothing is better than moderation. Because you have let go, you can truly care for the people’s welfare, just as a mother cares for her own child.

Just think about that. As long as you are bound by your own preconceived ideas, your fixed plans and concepts, you will have to be in control. The will to power will be in charge in your life, and all your ideals, the very highest of them, will have the most dismal of results. You may think you know what is best for the people. And, you will be frustrated every step of the way. You are rigid! You can’t bend. You will be broken.

If you really want to care for the people’s welfare, give up caring. Let go of all desire for the common good, and the good will become as common as grass.

Are you beginning to see just how radical moderation is? We have become so accustomed to there being someone in control. We elect rulers to control us, because we don’t trust ourselves. But, without all that need for control, the world is fully capable of governing itself. All that is required are leaders who will be great, because they have given up trying to control.

Does This Post Need a Trigger Warning?

If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.

When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.

Thus the Master is content
to serve as an example
and not to impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 58, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Does This Post Need a Trigger Warning?

Yesterday, we began a series of chapters which I don’t mind saying are my favorite ones. They are on the art of governing. As far as I am concerned, Lao Tzu was the very first libertarian. And, these very libertarian chapters were what attracted me to philosophical Taoism, in the first place. I had fun with yesterday’s chapter; and, I like to have fun. But, today, I want to be a bit more circumspect, as in serious and cautious, about what I say.

It is that word, tolerance, which gives me pause. Talk about a loaded word. Dare I call it “triggering”? Certainly, anytime tolerance comes up in conversation, the conversation tends to take a radical turn. And, usually, it is a turn for the worse.

So, I just want to get some things out of the way, right from the start. I have zero desire in entering the fray, arguing semantics: “I am not being intolerant, you are being intolerant!” Words can cut more surely than a knife. “I don’t have to be accepting to be tolerant!” It has long been maintained that nothing travels faster, in our Universe, than the speed of light. But, the speed with which accusations and name-calling, vitriol, is hurled, in this day and age, rivals it.

I am reminded of a lesson my dad was always trying to get across to me while he was living: “It takes two to argue.” That was his way of teaching me to know when it was time to shut up, when to back down. When I would say, “But they started it”, he swept away the ground on which I was standing, just like that.

I doubt my father would have called it tolerance. But, that was exactly what he was trying to teach me.

But, let’s make this a little more clear. When Lao Tzu says, “If a country is governed with tolerance, the people are comfortable and honest”, he is contrasting that with, “If a country is governed with repression, the people are depressed and crafty.” He is saying tolerance is “not trying to control”. Tolerance isn’t about whether you like something, it is about whether you will allow it. Will you let people be free to pursue their own happiness, or will you try to control them?

If people are more depressed and crafty, than comfortable and honest, it is a good indication the will to power is in charge. And, the higher the ideals, the lower the results will be.

If you try to make people happy, you lay the groundwork for misery. If you try to make people moral, you lay the groundwork for vice.

We simply must let go of our desire to intervene, to interfere, to try to control. You want to know what intolerance is? There it is. Insisting that people can’t be trusted. That they need to follow your will. You get to determine what is moral, and what is not. You get to decide which pursuits of happiness are allowed, and which are not. Intolerance is the desire to impose your own will.

We need to be content to serve as an example. And, that means letting people find their own way. That, my friends, is tolerance. Practice being pointed, without piercing; straightforward, yet supple; radiant, but easy on the eyes.

I am Watching You, Leslie Knope

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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 57, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I am Watching You, Leslie Knope

I have a friend who is running for political office. She is running as an independent candidate to be a state representative in the Missouri General Assembly. Just the other day she posted an article on her Facebook page about the ongoing problem of corruption in Jefferson City, my state’s capitol. I am supporting Terry Hampton in her election bid; I must be, since I volunteered to be her campaign’s treasurer. And, we have some good conversations. We think of ourselves much like two of the characters from the TV show, Parks and Recreation. I am Ron Swanson to her Leslie Knope. I commented on her post, “Power attracts those who are the most easily corruptible.” And she replied, “This one should give me pause, shouldn’t it?” So, I replied back, “Let’s just say I will be vigilantly watchful.” To which, she replied, “I expect no less.”

Anyway, Leslie, erm Terry, today’s chapter is for you.

It is actually for all the Leslie Knopes out there. You know who you are.

If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao.

Stop trying to control.

I mean it. It is a hallmark of any one aspiring to political office. You perceive problems, and you have the answers. And, the answers tend to resort to the use of force.

I am not accusing Terry, my Leslie, of this. I wouldn’t be supporting her, if I didn’t have a pretty good idea that she isn’t so weak, so easily corruptible, as just about anyone else who runs for political office.

But my Leslie, Terry, still needs to be vigilant about this. Because power does tend to corrupt. That is why telling all you Leslie Knopes out there to stop trying to control is so very important.

You need to let go of all your fixed plans and concepts. Here, the Ron Swanson in me chuckles. Imagine, Leslie Knope letting go of all those binders. But, there is one thing that Ron Swanson and I know for certain: The world is fully capable of governing itself.

Try to let that sink in for a moment. Don’t choke on those words. The world will govern itself, if you will only let it.

When you don’t, when you intervene and interfere, when you try to control, then things get ugly. 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.

As I said, before, I am not really worried about my Leslie. My Leslie gets it. But, that doesn’t mean I won’t remain vigilantly watchful of her.

Will she let go of the law, and trust the people will become honest? Will she let go of economics, and trust the people will become prosperous? Will she let go of religion, and trust the people will become serene? Will she let go of all desire for the common good, and trust that the good will become as common as grass?

I am watching you, Leslie Knope.

Why It Endures

Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can’t be approached or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 56, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Why It Endures

Is Lao Tzu still talking about newborns? “Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know.” It might seem like it. But, what I think he is actually talking about is returning to our primal identity. We can’t go back into our mother’s womb, and be born again; so, what is this primal identity?

I think it is a state of being very much like that of a newborn. If you know, you don’t talk about it. If you are talking about it, you must not really know. That should be enough for me to stop writing right here, and let it be. But, Lao Tzu didn’t stop writing. He went on to explain it better for us.

And, it isn’t enough just to close your mouth, anyway. You have to be willing to block off all your senses. Say what? What I think Lao Tzu is describing is a meditative state. One, where your heart is opened, and nothing which is outside of you can distract. Close your eyes. Stop your ears. Stop looking and listening. Blunt your sharpness, the acuteness of your senses. Untie your knots. Soften your glare. Stop. Breathe. In. Out. Allow your dust to settle.

Every time Lao Tzu enjoins us to do our work, and then, stop, and take a step back, this is what he has in mind. What is the primal identity? It is embracing what we have always been. It is remembering. Remembering, what we all too easily have forgotten.

It is to be like the Tao. It can’t be approached or withdrawn from. It is always present. It can’t be benefited or harmed, honored or brought into disgrace. Can you see how these distinctions have no place in the primal identity?

The primal identity is the nothing you return to, the source of everything. It gives itself up continually, and thus, it endures forever.