"He must speak to them from below."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 66
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
The river and the sea can be kings of a hundred valleys,
Because they lie below them.
That is why they can be the kings of a hundred valleys.
If the sage wants to stand above people,
He must speak to them from below.
If he wants to lead people,
He must follow them from behind.
When the sage stands above people,
They are not oppressed.
When he leads people,
They are not obstructed.
The world will exalt him
And not grow tired of him.
Because he does not resist,
None in the world resists him.
Go Low to Stand High
When Lao Tzu says that there are things that can rule
over valleys, it comes as a surprise. He frequently compares
Tao to the valley, and who can rule Tao? But the rivers
float downwards and the sea is lower than the land, so they
behave like Tao in their yielding. By their humble
yielding they can become rulers.
The sage knows very well to do the same. When he
rises above people, he speaks to them as from below, like a
servant and not a king. When leading them in a certain
direction, he walks behind them, as if following their initiative.
The art of leadership is not to be obvious about it.
People are happy to obey someone who makes his or her
orders into questions, instead of exclamations.
It's not just an attitude, like acting on a stage. It needs
to be accompanied by certain principles of leadership,
striving not to increase people's burdens, but to diminish them.
Power includes the ability to treat others hurtfully
and make decisions that oppose their interests. The good
leader should struggle hard to avoid such actions. The welfare
of the people should always be the leader's primary concern.
Following behind people, instead of being an
obstruction in front of them, also means being sensitive to
their needs. Merely hiding in the back of the line, right
after pointing the way, is not enough.
The good leader should always be sensitive to
where people really want to go, what directions they favor
and which ones they want to avoid. That's following behind.
Always Several Options
It's still an active leadership. Most of all, the ruler gets
to choose which one of several options will be pursued.
There are always several options. When making the choice,
the good leader considers people's welfare and the wishes
they might have in their hearts. Other considerations are
The least important aspect is the leader's personal
People resist a leader who resists or ignores their
interests. A leader, who makes it clear that what benefits
the people is what's first on the agenda, will not be
opposed. How can you oppose someone who is devoted to work
on what's best for you?
Such leaders are rare, so we would all make sure to
obey and respect them.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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