Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 60

Governing a big country is like frying a small fish

Hmm, this sounds like a set up for a punch line in a bad joke. But the punch line is:

Thus use Dao to govern all under heaven

Okay, that’s better. Using Dao (Tao) as a governing principle is a theme of the Tao Te Ching. It can apply to actual government, and can apply just as well to how we govern ourselves. And as with cooking a small fish, less is more.

Think about the proliferation of laws we have in the United States at all levels of government. Our answer to many problems is to make up more rules and then try to enforce them. We do this in our legislatures, in our communities, in our families, and with ourselves. And how is that working for us?

I’m not suggesting that we toss out all the rules. I am wondering, though, if we look to rules to solve problems that rules can’t solve, or can’t solve well.

A friend related a story about leading a meeting during which a woman was being disruptive and obnoxious. Feeling responsible for the governance of the meeting, he approached her during a break, intending to confront her about her behavior and to insist that she change her behavior or leave. Instead, at the last minute, he shifted his perspective and asked her if she was all right. After a brief exchange, she broke down in tears and shared with him a challenge she was experiencing. Feeling heard, understood, and respected, she was able to release her combative stance and engage in a more productive way.

Either way, he would have prevented further disruption. But look at the different outcomes. He chose to focus on connection rather than content, on understanding rather than force, on relationship rather than judgment.

This chapter goes on to observe that “demons” have no power when Dao is the guiding principle. Force and resistance feed conflict and opposition. In contrast, Dao follows the natural flow of energy in the universe.

Thus harmony and peace are integrated and restored

This works just as well in our individual lives. Recently I was struggling with a situation that churned up a lot of emotion for me. My initial response was to try to control the situation, to direct an outcome of my choice, to force others to comply. Not surprisingly, I was not very successful, and even to the extent that I was, my emotional turmoil was not alleviated.

I’d like to say I got smart, but what I got was exhausted. And finally, I just stopped fighting. I let go of what I couldn’t control (most everything), and focused on regaining internal alignment and equanimity. And what do you know – once released from my desperate interference, everything began to unfold in a natural way. True, not entirely to my liking, but in a way I could see was inevitable and perhaps for the best.

I’m cooking a small fish for dinner.

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. ~Larry Eisenberg


  1. Today for me was another example of this principle and letting God fight the battle. I asked Him to step in for me and I would shut my mouth on what was really a minor hurtful situation. By letting God arrange the resolution, it ended in a humorous rather than angry way.

  2. "He chose to focus on connection rather than content, on understanding rather than force, on relationship rather than judgment."
    Oh, Galen, in these few words are a treasure of how we should treat one another. It is exactly what Jesus demonstrated when on earth. And He wants, and longs, for us to do the same!
    Blessings, my friend!

    1. Yes, this story made a big impression on me, Martha. I hope to remember it when I need to apply it.

  3. Thank you for this post, Galen. I will think of it today as I move through this holiday, hoping to connect rather than confront those who feel differently than me. You always seem to reach me when I most need it. Thank you again. :-)

    1. Hope you enjoy your day, DJan. Glad you liked this post. I think stories of kindness, like the one I told about my friend, always are needed! That's why they always seem so timely.

  4. Oh Galen, I love this one! When I have to engage with my younger extrovert sister over the care of out 81 year old mother, I usually end up doing a lot of analysing on how to prevent my sister from labelling my behaviour in the way that she seems to - for example,'too sensitive' has always been a label I know she uses. So I adopt certain strategies in my mind to convince her otherwise. It's ludicrous, because it never seems to work! Just the other day, we were together in an emergency situation over my mother at a hospital - I just let go,didn't rise to anything, was totally myself, ended up finding out some of her insecurities and I insisted me and hubby help her get through some dreadful traffic by her following us to her home. It all worked like a dream! With this approach more recently, me sharing who I am, whatever she happens to think, with me just letting go of that caring what she thinks, we are getting along pretty well, which we do need for the future. So your connecting instead of confronting post fits with my sister and I brilliantly! Many thanks for helping me see how this came about.

    1. Great story, Lynne. Just last night, my daughter was talking about a situation she is in, in which she struggles to be her honest self but worries about what others will think. She compared herself to her sister who is in a similar situation but seems to navigate smoothly without conflict or inner turmoil. She observed that her sister just enjoyed herself and didn't care so much what others thought.

      I have so often done what you described -- tried to make others see me the way I want them to. I could give many examples with someone in my own life, so I can relate to your story! I have come to accept that she is pretty much going to see me the way she saw me when I was sixteen years old! Apparently, at least in her eyes, I have improved little since then. Ha! (Hmm, maybe I haven't....)

      Thanks for commenting.

  5. I loved the final quote! it made me smile. I really enjoyed reading this one. We are over governed for sure. Too many rules and etc. are causing a lot of contention and confusion. I liked all the thoughts on Dao.
    I enjoyed the experiences shared today; they were very insightful.
    I do hope that at some point we will find peace but probably not until the Millennium when Christ comes again to rule and reign.

    1. My friend's story made a big impression on me too. Glad you liked the post, LeAnn. Thanks for commenting.


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