Monday, August 28, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 31

Although disjointed and repetitive, lacking the grace and poetry of other chapters (some scholars think this chapter was corrupted somehow), we can nevertheless consider the basic message:

Weapons are tools of violence and fear
Wise people avoid them
Using them only when there is no other recourse
Never celebrating victory
Grieving for the fallen

As it says in The Art of War, the best battle is the one not fought. When I taught contract drafting in law school, my students would tell me that they wanted to draft a contract that would “win in court.” I always told them, “If your contract ends up in court, you have already lost. You are only in court when the purpose of the contract has failed. Even if you win in court, your original objective will not be achieved.”

Looking back at my personal life, I can’t think of one argument I’ve had with anyone that left me feeling good about fighting. Even if I got the desired outcome, I paid a price. I lost a friendship, perhaps, or hurt someone, or felt my energy drained. There was rarely pleasure in victory. In reviewing a dispute, I can often see something I could have done differently to still get the desired outcome or a reasonable compromise, and leave both sides feeling less battered by the process.

Having said all that, I confess that I do love martial arts weapons. I love the grace and skill involved, and yes, I also love the combat aspect, even though I have absolutely no desire to engage in actual combat. It seems contradictory, but I know that practicing martial arts over the years has taught me more about peace than about fighting.

So perhaps we can consider in our own lives what we really gain by fighting, and what we lose. And perhaps we can pause for a moment before engaging to see if there is a better way.

Don't fight a battle if you don't gain anything by winning. ~General Patton


  1. Delightful wisdom, Galen. I understand what you say about martial arts. I remember when my son first enrolled in Karate class, the Sensei explained how the goal was to learn self-control, discipline, respect for one another. And yes, the General Patton quote is perfect.

    I am very sorry I have missed your "teaching" of the Tao te Ching, but I am also glad it is all here for me to catch up with.

    Love and hugs to you! Yes, I feel an email coming on!

    1. Hey, Vidya! Your son had a great teacher. All the self defense and martial arts I've learned begin with the best defense--look for a safe exit!

      You haven't missed anything. As you noted, all the posts are still there. Just scroll back. Or you can click on the label at the bottom of this post and bring up all the posts specifically on the Tao Te Ching chapters.

      That email has been coming on for months! Ha! Love you back, Vidya, and thanks for stopping by.

  2. Oh my dear friend, this was a wonderful post for today, both personally and for the world.
    I think the basic message is powerful. I think your thoughts on it were magnificent.
    You hit it all right on the button. Thanks for the incites and you aced this one!
    I used the philosophy of pick your battles; but even then it was better to find a peaceful solution. As missionaries, we are never to contend but just love. I have learned a lot on this one.
    Blessings and hugs for sharing your thoughts on this!

    1. Thanks, LeAnn! I appreciate the kind words, and I'm so glad this post resonated for you.

  3. The denizens of social media during the Harvey situation could learn a lot from this post- though they never will.

    1. Never give up on folks, CW. It is our destiny to move towards the light and all of us will sooner or later.

  4. Amen, Galen! Fighting is never the answer. It may make us feel flush with victory when we "win," but only briefly if we are honest with ourselves. There is always a better way.

    1. Martha, so true. Being honest with ourselves and pausing to take a breath can save us a lot of regret and heartache.

  5. Martha, allow me respectfully to disagree. Sometimes fighting is the only answer if you cannot run away and your life, health, or family are on the line. I speak as a survivor of multiple attacks, attempted murder and attempted rape.

    The martial arts skills I learned in Shotokan karate have made me sufficiently aware of violence that I can usually avoid a situation before it happens. If I cannot escape, I have so far had the skills to save my life. And in those situations, yes, fighting was very much the answer, and I am grateful for those years of practice and skill building.

    I think it's important to remember that for a significant percentage of the population, a nonviolent response is a sign of weakness. And yes, I agree with senseis who teach that the best fight is one that's avoided. But it's equally important to know when, where, and how to fight.

    1. Your point is well taken. Chapter 31 acknowledges that sometimes fighting is unavoidable, but we can have an attitude that takes no pleasure in it, not celebrating victory and grieving for the fallen. We do what is necessary, no more.

      As for nonviolence as a sign of weakness, consider the power of nonviolence in the civil rights movement, and in the struggle for independence in India. Nonviolence can defuse aggression where violence can often escalate it. The Quakers have written some thought provoking material on the power of nonviolence to overcome force. "Yield and overcome" is also a theme in the Tao Te Ching.

      Being afraid to look weak can sometimes be an ego issue more than a defense issue, but I understand your point.

      I have found the same to be true in life in general. In my professional life I did a lot of contract negotiation, both in the US and in other countries. I found that taking a nonadversarial approach often achieved better results for my client. I didn't care if the other party saw me as "weak" as long as I got the deal my client wanted. Apparent weakness can sometimes be an effective tactical advantage.

      However, when necessary I could go toe to toe, so to speak. I still "won" but it left both parties feeling distrustful of the other and did not lead to good contract relationships and performance.

      I have never had to use my martial arts skills in a true self defense situation, but I have deflected a few potentially dangerous situations by using body language and verbal skills. If truly cornered, I would not hesitate to do whatever I needed to do to protect myself or loved ones, but as I said, that would be a last resort.

      Thank you for bringing more breadth and dimension to the conversation. I appreciate your comment.


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