Thursday, May 20, 2010

8 Rules for Governing a Country from the Tao te Ching

This article was originally published by Technorati on 20 May 2010 as a Simply Spirited feature. To see all my Technorati articles, click Lifestyle in the Contents listing on the sidebar.

According to Lao-tzu, author of the Tao te Ching, rather than sniping at new political leaders, we're supposed to teach them about the Tao. (See Part 1 of this post)

The Tao Te Ching offers specific advice for those who would govern a country. Selecting a few of these would be as good a place to start as any in educating our President.

1. "When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists." Lao-tzu's advice: don't be over exposed in the media. Don't buy into the idea that you have to be in every news cycle. Do your work, do it well and voters will remember you in 2012.

2. "When a country is in harmony with the Tao, the factories make trucks and tractors. When a country goes counter to the Tao, warheads are stockpiled outside the cities." Lao-tzu advises shutting down the military-industrial complex. Later he says, "The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be." Especially if the people can't afford the weapons and the country is beholden to its biggest rival in the world (hint: it's the land where the Tao te Ching came from) to pay for them.

3. "When rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land; when government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures; when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn--all this is robbery and chaos. It is not in keeping with the Tao." Could there be a better description of our times? Perhaps we should have allowed our rich speculators go down the drain with the meltdown they created. Examine the growing disparity between rich and poor and correct it, says Lao-tzu. Something is out of balance.

4. "The more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be." It's okay, says Lao-tzu, to expect people to take care of themselves. It's good for them. And if they don't (if they can't, that's another matter), there's nothing wrong with charity. "What is a bad man but a good man's job?" he writes.

5. "[L]et go of economics and people become prosperous." Perhaps the application to our times for this item is that we have to pay our bills. By running after complicated economic schemes, we've lost sight of simple, basic principles. We're fiddling while Rome is burning. History will likely report that this generation could not overcome political factors and right the ship of state by buying only what it could afford.

6. "For governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation." Don't be an ideologue. Do what works. "The mark of a moderate man," says Lao-tzu, "is freedom from his own ideas."

7. "If a nation is centered in the Tao, if it nourishes its own people and doesn't meddle in the affairs of others, it will be a light to all nations in the world." Perhaps this is some help in understanding Chinese foreign policy. It's difficult to tolerate abuses inside other countries, but according to Lao-tzu, it's the better way to go. By this standard, the U.S. was much more in line with the Tao prior to World War II.

8. "When taxes are too high, people go hungry." Lao-tzu would have been all for tax cuts. The Tao is about balance. If taxes are headed higher, it's a sure sign your government is getting out of balance.

You might also like: The Anatomy of Success

Photo credit: The Atlantic

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