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"Those who show no trust
will not be trusted."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 17

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


17

The supreme rulers are hardly known by their subjects.

The lesser are loved and praised.

The even lesser are feared.

The least are despised.


Those who show no trust will not be trusted.

Those who are quiet value the words.

When their task is completed, people will say:

We did it ourselves.



Unnoticed Ruler

History has taught us that noisy rulers usually ravage the country. Still, we tend to fall for them when they rise. We should always look for modesty in our leaders, and moderation in their use of power. Those who seek triumph are indifferent to what they need to trample on in order to reach it.

       Nowadays, we have a chance to elect our leaders by voting. We don't always have excellent candidates to choose between, but we are still much better off than those countless past generations stuck with kings whose only merit was that they were sons of kings. Inheriting power rarely breeds the proper respect for it.

       Lao Tzu gives a clear order of leadership qualities. The same ladder can be used as an indicator of how those leaders safeguard their position.

       The most prominent leaders are satisfied to do their work without receiving any praise for it. They don't even care if they are known, or if they will be remembered after their time in office.

       The leaders with slightly less prominence make sure that they are loved and appreciated. That's far less noble, but it's still a kind of guarantee that they will do their best to please the people they rule, and protect the land they control. Only benevolence inspires love, and only a job well done wins praise.

       Much worse are the leaders who guard their power by threats and force, scaring people into submission. Unfortunately, this is not that difficult, history shows us. So, such leaders are not rare, and they tend to remain in power for far too long. Fear, as Lao Tzu has already explained above, is everywhere.

       So, it's easy to find and to stimulate. Those who want to indulge in power tend to prefer it, because it makes their power evident as well as impressive. But such power is fragile, since those ruled by it only wish for it to end.

       Feared leaders are still not the worst, Lao Tzu tells us. Such leaders can still be admired, and people are excused for not revolting.

       The worst ones are despised, having no merit in the eyes of their people. This is worse than fear, because it's shameful – for the leader, and even more so for those he leads, since they allow themselves to be ruled by someone they cannot respect. It's a reign of disgrace, which risks leading even the most splendid country into decay.


Any Leader

What Lao Tzu says about rulers is true also for all kinds of leaders further down in the hierarchy. A boss doesn't have to be big to be bad – or good. As soon as someone has the least bit of power over other people, no matter how few they are, the above applies.

       Competent rulers are trusted, and trust that they receive this trust. Otherwise they feel the need to ascertain their power by other means. But trust is such that it neither grows nor remains if it's not mutual. The one who shows trust expects to get it in return, so those who want it must also give it.

       If a trusted leader shows no trust in the people he leads, then soon enough their trust in him will vanish. Rightly so. Someone who expects the worst from others is likely to accept it in himself. He may even use his suspicions to justify his own malice, calling it precaution or a preemptive strike. Distrust poisons society much quicker than blind faith ever does.

       Words should be used with the same moderation as power. A leader arguing his case abundantly is probably trying to cover its weakness. Rhetoric can be as fine as poetry, but it says very little about the issue at hand. Words are not deeds, so words about deeds give no guarantee as to how they will turn out. This is evident in modern politics, where passionate speeches are a dime a dozen, but still most problems wait for their solutions.

       We would say that action speaks louder than words, but Lao Tzu was no friend of noise. He would rather have the action so discreet that it passed unnoticed, and therefore no words at all were needed.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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Tao Te Ching Explained


James Legge's Tao Te Ching


Aleister Crowley's Tao Te Ching


The 1st Chapter of Tao Te Ching in 76 Versions


Lao Tzu - Legendary Author of Tao Te Ching





My Taoism Books:


Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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The Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. 389 quotes from the foremost Taoist classic, divided into 51 prominent topics. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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