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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"Respond intelligently..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment.

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment."






Intelligence is a modern concept, indicating the rather rude idea that people have differently limited mental capacities. Not to mention the very questionable IQ tests, claiming to order people in a scale of intelligence from the lowest to the highest.

       This categorization of individual capacity is something that grew out of a swamp - racial biology and the like in the early 20th century. We should have grown away from it after 1945. The whole idea is repulsive.

       Historically, the word used was wisdom, implying that it is something to work on, whatever your starting point might be. Everyone can get wiser. That was also the Lao Tzu perspective. Some are foolish to begin with, but everyone can learn.


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       The fake Lao Tzu quote is also awkward with the expression "unintelligent treatment." What is that, really? We have all experienced uninformed or ignorant response. But unintelligent - who will be the judge?

       What is clever to one is but a joke to another. Even Lao Tzu said that, in chapter 41 (my version):


The lesser student listens to the Way and laughs out loud.
If there were no laughter it would not be the Way.


       Notice that Lao Tzu did not claim the lesser student is unable to understand - just unwilling.

       The wording of the quote examined here suggests that it is of modern making. That could mean a modern interpretation of Tao Te Ching, or some other source altogether. Sadly, it is the former.

       The quote is from Archie J. Bahm's version of chapter 63 of Tao Te Ching (page 57). Bahm was an American professor of philosophy. His Tao Te Ching book, with the subtitle "Interpreted as Nature and Intelligence," was published in 1958. It takes a philosopher to love that word...

       He deviated quite a lot from Lao Tzu's words to get to it. Here is my version of the same line:


Return animosity with virtue.


       James Legge wrote in his version from 1891:


Recompense injury with kindness.


In other words, be noble even when treated rudely. Nothing at all about intelligence. Lao Tzu didn't have that kind of prejudice.

       Other Archie J. Bahm quotes are discussed in the chapters He who controls others and One who is too insistent.

       One of the memes spreading this fake Lao Tzu quote (see it at the top of this web page) is additionally amusing, considering it deals with intelligence: It states that Lao Tzu lived 450 BC - 531 BC. But of course, BC years count backwards. That means he would have been born 131 years after he died. Quite an accomplishment even for Lao Tzu.

       There is no trustworthy source to the exact years of Lao Tzu's life. Some say he lived in the 6th century BC, some say one or two hundred years later, and some say he probably didn't exist at all.

Stefan Stenudd
April 2, 2017, revised September 10, 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 (paid link).

       More about the book here.



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