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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Kindness in words..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Kindness in words creates confidence...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love."






Any Lao Tzu quote containing the word love is almost certainly fake. That's something he did not discuss in Tao Te Ching.

       How we emphasize and understand love is something that has evolved through two thousand years of Christianity. Not that the sentiment was unknown to thinkers of antiquity around the world, but it was presented differently, and overall much less so. Lao Tzu didn't dwell on it at all.


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       Also kindness is something that would make Lao Tzu wonder. He spoke about te, which can be translated as virtue, noble actions of a noble mind. That would be a kind way of behaving - mostly but not necessarily. He stated rather ominously in chapter 5 (my version):


Heaven and Earth are not kind.
They regard all things as offerings.
The sage is not kind.
He regards people as offerings.


       Although Lao Tzu was evidently compassionate, his text talks about principles extracted from an order that is the one of nature itself. Kindness is not really the thing. Modesty would be something he related to with much more comfort - humility and modesty.

       Profoundness is an awkward word in English. Shouldn't it rather be profundity? At least it would be more elegant when translating a philosophical text more than two thousand years old. But the quote has nothing to do with Lao Tzu, if it's not from a very off translation of his text. There are many such translations.

       Amusingly, there are also Internet sites (like Azquotes) and memes accrediting the quote to Mao Zedong, the former Chinese leader. I wouldn't think he had that much to say about love, either.

       I have also found the quote accredited to the Greek fabulist Aesop, in Scientific Concepts Behind Happiness, Kindness, and Empathy in Contemporary Society from 2019, edited by Nava R. Silton (page xxv). Unfortunately, there is no source specified. Also some websites claim Aesop as the origin of the quote, but this may simply be a misreading of collections, where quotes of Aesop and Lao Tzu are listed one after the other. There are many of those.

       According to a learned blog discussion on the Useless Tree website in August, 2008, the earliest appearance of the quote in an English language book is Peter's Quotations: Ideas for Our Time, by Laurence J. Peter, 1977. He is most famous for The Peter Principle.

       Peter claimed it to be a quote from Lao Tzu (page 279), but gave no source to that claim, nor the number of a Tao Te Ching chapter.

       There is one more quote accredited to Lao Tzu in Peter's book (page 292): "The greater the number of laws and enactments, the more thieves and robbers there will be." This quote originates in The Sayings of Lao Tzu by Lionel Giles (page 38), which is from 1904 but with many later editions. Giles translated Tao Te Ching, but rearranged the chapters according to topics.

       Peter's quote about kindness, though, is not from this source. It is likely that he got it from a book published the year before, in 1976: Living thoughts: Inspiration, Insight, and Wisdom from Sources throughout the Ages, by Bernard S. Raskas. It has the kindness quote on page 143, accrediting it to Lao Tzu.

       If I have to guess, I'd say that this fake quote is an off interpretation of a few lines in chapter 67 of Tao Te Ching. Here is my version of them:


By compassion one can be brave.
By moderation one can be generous.
By not claiming to be first in the world one can rule.


       Another possibility is that the quote is a distorted version of a few lines from chapter 8:


A good mind is deep.
A good gift is kind.
A good word is sincere.


       But that's a stretch.

Stefan Stenudd
April 2, 2017, revised September 9, 2020.



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Fake Lao Tzu Quotes - Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Fake Lao Tzu Quotes

Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. 90 of the most spread false Lao Tzu quotes, why they are false and where they are really from. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.



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