"If you do not make them weary, they will not be weary of you."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 72
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
When people do not dread authorities,
Then a greater dread descends.
Do not crowd their dwellings.
Do not make them weary at their work.
If you do not make them weary,
They will not be weary of you.
Therefore, the sage knows himself,
But does not parade.
He cherishes himself,
But does not praise himself.
He discards the one,
And chooses the other.
Don't Make Them Weary
The second part of the Tao Te Ching has several chapters
on government, and how to improve it. This is one of
them. What Lao Tzu expresses in his views on governing
the country, often seems very similar to modern democratic
ideals. That would be going too far, though.
It's clear that he thinks of a state ruled by a
sovereign who doesn't need regular voting procedures to stay
in power, or a parliament to convince. He thinks of kings
and dukes and the like. Their power is not questioned, but
their use of it is.
Lao Tzu doesn't hope for a revolution. He might
even abhor it, if he were able to imagine such a thing. He
thinks about the existing authorities, and what advice he
would give them.
Legend has it that he did himself work as a
government official, although not a very prominent one, before
leaving the country in dismay. So, he knew about the
shortcomings of leadership, and the damages it brought to the empire
as well as its population. When writing a text of as much
as five thousand words, he was bound to touch on the subject.
Apart from insisting on the ruler's responsibility to
act according to Tao, the Way, Lao Tzu also stresses again
and again that the ruler should work for the best of the
people. That was by no means the norm in his time. In many
countries around the world it still isn't.
The emperor had the whole country at his disposal,
to do whatever he wanted with it, as if his wishes came
from Heaven. Concern for the people was far down on the list.
Lao Tzu brings it up to first place, and he has two
main reasons for it. One is that compassion and careful
concern are in accordance with Tao. With such leadership the
country would progress as it should, to everyone's delight.
The other reason is that a ruler who ignores the
needs and sentiments of his subjects may be overthrown. To
Lao Tzu, a rebellion of that kind, no matter how
understandable, deviates even more from the Way than bad leadership
does. In his mind, it would open for chaos.
The world is governed by Tao, and a country should
be governed by a king. Lao Tzu sees no alternative. But
the king needs to follow Tao, or the whole order is at risk.
In this chapter he points out that a ruler should
execute his powers mildly. If people are too burdened by their
ruler, they will cease to respect him, and obey him as little as
they can get away with.
If he inflicts on their homes, narrowing their space of
living, he strikes them where it really hurts. There will be
a reaction. The same is likely if he harasses them at
their work, demanding too much or disturbing them in
their daily chores. They can't let that continue at length, or
they risk their very livelihood.
A ruler is free to do a lot of things and take heavy
tolls from his subjects. But if he shakes the very ground
under their feet, they must counter it somehow.
Lao Tzu expresses it by playing with words,
using `weary' in ambiguous ways, but the subject is quite
serious. The ruler needs the people's trust, and that can only
be reached by proving worthy of it.
The sage trusts his own capacity and wisdom, but
still remains humble and discreet. So should a ruler. It's the
best way to serve Heaven and Tao, but it can only be done
by primarily serving the people.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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