chapter 13: what will ‘they’ think of this?

by kye on August 6, 2010

Concerns about ‘fitting in’, ‘honors’, ‘what others will think’ and so on, can do such damage! It’s especially insidious because dishonor can be mistaken for a loss of your own personal integrity, and not fitting in can be mistaken for not being part of the human community.

But honors are external and are not real anyway. The ‘self’ of self-importance is not your own person.

The student is not the grade they receive, and an athlete is not the Olympic gold. Public office is bestowed–or not–and is easily lost even if it’s gained. If we become deeply invested in any of these, we are setting ourselves up for a constant fear that obscures what really matters.

Anything that happens in the public eye can be like that. What will ‘they’ think of this speech? This act? This sentence? This post? –But have I said what I know in my heart? If I do say it, then I’m untouchable.

This kind of untouchability which will not allow someone to be dishonest with his own person, is what makes someone trustworthy. This kind of untouchability is what we yearn for, in our leaders. We don’t want leaders who are blown about by every change in public opinion. We want leaders who stand true as they respond to world events, who know that sometimes their response will be unpopular and who are swayed by neither favor nor disfavor.

when honor
is bound up with our sense of self
both gaining it and losing it
fill us with fear

we fear we won’t gain it
we dread losing it
because of a limited sense of self

without self-importance
what dishonor can touch us?

if there is nothing
for which he would damage his person
someone might be entrusted with the world

because he cherishes his person
the world can be given to his care

— Kye Nelson: translation and commentary on Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

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This post was written as part of the tao together project.  Would you like to join us?

©2010 Kye Nelson

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