Monday, March 28, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 58

Poem 58

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.


Mallard in Phoenix Park, Winter 2015
The true mark of a good leader is that he/she leads by example, not by diktat.  I certainly learnt that very early on in my career. I remember as a young teacher scolding a boy for the mess of little pieces of paper, rather like a hundred pieces of confetti, he had left under his desk and ordering him to clean it up.  He retorted angrily, "I did not put it there.  I am not going to pick that mess up!"  Needless to say I was highly annoyed and indignant at this defiance and brought this incident to the attention of the Year Head and then filled in a report on the boy's defiance and so forth.  However, thankfully, I'm a quick learner and never made that mistake again.  From then on, I always requested pupils to help me clean up the classroom if such was ever necessary after class, and yes, indeed they always complied with this request. Looking back the boy in question might have had O.D.D. (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). Most young teachers today will have studied all these E.B.D.s - Emotional Behaviour Disorders - in their teacher training and O.D.D. is one of those. With a student who has O.D.D. the last thing any teacher should do is set up an oppositional situation, and if he/she does so then such a student will rise to meet the opposition - by doing just that, opposing.

This has been a rather long introduction to styles of leadership which our last several posts and some of the forthcoming ones are going to be about.  Apparently, there are four main styles of leadership: Coaching, Directing, Delegating and Supporting. See HERE and HERE. The basic idea is that we should be aware of our dominant style and be willing to change it according to the needs of a particular situation.  In simple words, therefore, the key is FLEXIBILITY! However, there are so many people who just can't seem to be flexible. However, they will have to learn the hard way - by making life a misery for themselves and for others.  At least, we hope they will learn!

Winter sunset 2015
Our first stanza above is all about tolerance and how such tolerance brings about peace and harmony. As the proverb so wisely puts it: "you will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!" The second stanza uses that rather fascist phrase associated with Nietzsche firstly and then with the Nazi Party in Germany - "the will to power!" Whatever about the origins of this phrase and about what Nietzsche really meant, what I have in mind here is precisely the fascist use of it, that is, its commonly held use and interpretation.  Indeed, that is its interpretation and use by our translator Stephen Mitchell above in stanza two.  There is nothing as bad as people who are power hungry, who are power brokers or people who are into "lording it over others," as it were.  The will to power will only disillusion people, make them into unwilling underlings and eventually breed rebellion.  However, the Taoist poet is also against "people pleasing" and easy "Yea saying" or agreeing uncritically with others, agreeing just to please, not being able to say "no" or to express a contrary opinion!  Such an approach, the poet insists, leads to much misery for all in the long run.  Taking the high moral ground is also looked upon as being counter-productive because it leads to people taking up an opposite stance, especially so if the moralist does not practise what he or she preaches.

Hence, the Master who knows his or her opposite-gender side (always implied by the nature of Taoist thinking) is always content to lead by example because that is a good leadership trait and it certainly inspires others to do what is right.  Then, as this commentator has pointed out many times, the Taoist poet resorts to the healthy tension of opposites or the balance of polarities in the wonderful last three lines which need no explanation as they work by setting up the healthy tension of such opposites in the first place.  We'll repeat them here, and ask the reader to reflect upon them meditatively by way of finishing these few thoughts:

She is pointed, but doesn't pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.

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