To be in favor or disgrace
is to live in fear.
To take the body seriously
is to admit one can suffer.

What does that mean,
to be in favor or disgrace
is to live in fear?
Favor debases:
we fear to lose it,
fear to win it.
So to be in favor or disgrace
is to live in fear.

What does that mean
to take the body seriously
is to admit one can suffer?
I suffer because I’m a body;
if I weren’t a body,
how could I suffer?

So people who set their bodily good
before the public good
could be entrusted with the commonwealth,
and people who treated the body politic
as gently as their own body
would be worthy to govern the commonwealth.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Lao Tzu talks about power often in theĀ Tao Te Ching. What separated him and continues to separate the Tao from most reasons for power is that the Tao states that power is a result of virtue, whereas nearly every other ideology and religion tends to see power itself as the virtue.

Might is right and so on. Manifest Destiny, the Divine Right of Kings, patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism–all of these ideas state that power is the virtue. Often times it’s tied to genetics, which is another way of saying that they see power as innate. They are born with power and so it is right for them to use power.

The Tao subverts this. Power is not a right. It is a gift. A gift given by the commonwealthy. That is to say, one who governs is given power by the people she governs. She doesn’t impose power upon them, but is allowed to govern because she has proven herself capable, gifted, whatever.

A leader, here, is one who sees the commonwealth in the same way one sees their own body. To understand that the body can and will suffer. To understand that praise and applause are not goals, but results of proper action. If someone simply chases praise, they are unfit to govern. Probably they’re unfit to do a lot of other things, too.

This is the most prescriptive poem we’ve come across thus far in theĀ Tao Te Ching and, like other prescriptive poems we’ll see, it has to do with leadership. Lao Tzu seems especially concerned with what makes a good leader, which makes sense, given the time period this was written.

But it’s something we should consider now. It’s partly why I decided to do these daily meditations on the Tao. We’re days away from a new president in my country, and I think we should consider the man we’ve elected and what his assumption of power will mean.

It would be hard to say that Lao Tzu would approve.