May 11, 2007


The guiding thread on this week's Goat Rope is a series of reflections on the ancient Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching, a work attributed to Lao Tzu. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.

This book has some interesting things to say about the art of dealing with people and about leadership that are worth considering.

I noticed as early as junior high school that there were some teachers and authority figures that I felt obliged to resist, while others earned my respect without even asking for it. This was not a matter of size or intimidation; those who tried the hardest to intimidate aroused my greater resistance.

The ones I respected gave people space. They didn't flaunt their authority or try to push others around. When they used their authority, they did so for an obvious reason. Since they didn't push unnecessarily, I didn't feel obliged to push back.

As Lao Tzu put it,

A good soldier is not violent.
A good fighter is not angry.
A good winner is not vengeful.
A good employer is humble.
This is known as the Virtue of not striving.
This is known as ability to deal with people.
This since ancient times has been known
as the ultimate unity with heaven. (68)

Some people seem to understand this; others don't. Those who do are able to accomplish much more with less energy wasted. For those who don't even the most routine interactions can become battles. Understanding this may be the most effective kind of personal and social self defense: it can enable one to avoid conflict and defuse violence before it happens.

Lao Tzu's ideas on effective leadership probably seems counter-intuitive to many people but we need more of it:

Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them.
Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams.

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed;
When he stands before them, they will not be harmed.
The whole world will support him and will not tire of him.

Because he does not compete,
He does not meet competition. (66)


The very highest [type of leader] is barely known by men.
Then comes that which they know and love,
Then that which is feared,
Then that which is despised.

He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.

When actions are performed
Without unnecessary speech,
People say, "We did it!" (17)

He doesn't say anything about swaggering beneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner, but I think that would be a Taoist no-no.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's some data on public opinion on Iraq now and then from the Center for American Progress.

COSTS OF WAR. Here's an item by Dean Baker on the long term costs of war to economic growth. He links the issue to current discussions about dealing with the costs of addressing global warming.



Brecht said...

More wisdom, much appreciated. If only it would travel from my head to my heart to my hands.

This post reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's piece on Cesar Millan, a man with a goog grasp of what counts:

El Cabrero said...

Yes-I think Cesar understands the tao of dogs. La Cabra is a big fan of his. Thanks!