trust and power

The wise have no mind of their own,
finding it in the minds
of ordinary people.

They’re good to good people
and they’re good to bad people.
Power is goodness.
They trust people of good faith
and they trust people of bad faith.
Power is trust.

They mingle their life with the world,
they mix their mind up with the world.
Ordinary people look after them.
Wise souls are children.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Le Guin’s commentary:

The next to last line is usually read as saying that ordinary people watch and listen to wise people. But Lao Tzu has already told us that most of us wander on and off the Way and don’t know a sage from a sandpile. And surely the quiet Taoist is not a media pundit.

Similarly, the last line is taken to mean that the wise treat ordinary people like children. This is patronizing, and makes hash out of the first verse. I read it to mean that the truly wise are looked after (or looked upon) like children because they’re trusting, unprejudiced, and don’t hold themselves above or apart from ordinary life.

Simple, quiet, still, but always things get done. A teacher, a leader who does not act, but people follow.

Taoism is tricky, and Lao Tzu often looks at it from the outside, the way many of his contemporaries must have looked at him and his followers. And he’s okay with treating himself ridiculously, with mocking Taoist practices and ideas.

But the core that we see from Taoism is a kind of serene belief in the goodness of people. That doing things well, that being kind, that behaving in a prosocial manner will create a sort of rippling effect of change.

Be the change you wish to see in the world and all that. Taoism takes that as a truism, and then acts upon it. In this way, Taoists seem naive, utopic, idealistic: childish. But it’s in remaining open and empathetic as a child that you create a more promising world. A kinder world.

Power is goodness.

Power is trust.

These sentences and ideas are simple, but their ramifications are complex and complicated, because we’ve been trained for thousands of years that Might is Right. Taoism sees that idea as the refuge of cowards, of simpletons. And while killing those who oppose you may be effective, it will not create a more stable or comforting world. And those who must use violence to prove that they are correct will never find your subservience to be enough. It will always lead to more violence, to greater cruelty.

The difficult thing is finding a way to act against violence while refusing violence.

The Tao is that other way. And it’s why all hope is not lost.

Since Trump became president, much of the US has become a chaotic and unpleasant mindscape. But, at the same time, we’re seeing active participation in the political process on a scope not seen in decades. It is not violence that will combat totalitarianism, but organization and action.

Part of me thinks the best thing the media could do is to ignore Trump. No longer discuss his tweets and no longer bother to interview him.

With most would-be dictators, this would be a disaster. But with Trump, I think it would drive him insane until he’s begging for someone to just watch him. To just look at him, to just listen.

What I mean to say is that we are seeing the world respond to a violent ideology, and it’s through increased compassion and generosity. And that’s a beautiful thing.