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Book Summaries Philosophy

Idea 1: Avoid Labels (Tao Te Ching)

We are used to classifying behavior as good or evil, but Lao Tzu urges us to reconsider this tendency. Since change is inevitable, so it is impossible for evil to remain evil and for good to remain good. People are capable of amazing transformation in either direction.

The Tao, being the natural order of things, welcomes both good and evil, and the master, who recognizes the Tao, does not make a strict delineation between either.

CHAPTER 5

The Tao doesn’t take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn’t take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.
The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.
Hold on to the center.

There is a related idea, in the 19th chapter, and this is about how some people identify as saints or sinners. But categories such as these are meaningless. There is so such thing as wise or holy. Labels only make people feel that they lack something. If someone feels that another is wiser than they are, then they are robbed of their personal responsibility. ‘If wisdom is to be found in others, then what could be expected from me?’

But once these labels are removed, people naturally take on responsibility, become wiser and holier.

CHAPTER 19

Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.
If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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