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Toon-Te-Ching: Verse 18

Welcome to this installment of the Toon-Te-Ching. We are taking each one of the 81 verses of the Tao-Te-Ching, pairing it with a toon, and connecting the teaching to our work life.

Verse 18

When the greatness of the Tao is present,

action arises from one’s own heart.

When the greatness of the Tao is absent,

action comes from the rules

of “kindness and justice.”

If you need rules to be kind and just,

if you act virtuous,

this is a sure sign that virtue is absent.

Thus we see the great hypocrisy.

When kinship falls into discord,

piety and rites of devotion arise.

When the country falls into chaos,

official loyalists will appear;

patriotism is born.

The Paradox between Trust and Rules. When groups fail to build trust, they need a lot of rules. When they have trust, they can be much more responsive. I often ask clients, ‘do you want to spend your energy building rules or building trust?’ See our previous post on the paradox between rules and trust here.

The Tao presents a similar paradox, presenting us with the challenge that if you need rules to be kind, just and virtuous, you are lacking kindness, justice, and virtue. If we’re acting kind because of the rules, are we truly kind? And I’ll ask you, as I ask my clients, do you want to spend your energy creating a kind world, or creating rules so people can act kind?

Trust your intuition. The verse distinguishes between actions that come from one’s own heart versus actions that arise from the rules. How often do we act in accordance with what’s expected? We follow the path that’s laid out for us. We go to a good college, we rack up certifications, we collect the skills that people tell us we need in order to get promoted, we do the work our boss assigns to us, we save for retirement. Do we ever stop and think about what our heart wants? What does your intuition tell you? Is it different than the path that the rules tell you to take?

Acting virtuously is a barrier to courage. ‘Acting virtuous’ can show up at work as a culture of politeness. The keyword here is “acting”. One of the barriers to courage in organizations is a culture of politeness. The Tao verse notes that when we are ‘act virtuous, it’s a sure sign that virtue is absent’. Similarly, we aim to be polite in order to look virtuous, but we block the true virtue of speaking our truth. By covering up the truth with politeness, we lose the opportunity to explore and address the things that are really happening. People are afraid to speak up, ask questions, and share innovative ideas. Conflict avoidance becomes the norm. What opportunities are obscured in your organization because of politeness?

Soul Twist: Perform a small act of kindness for someone at work today and do your best to keep it anonymous. Random, unclaimed kindness creates the most impact … a little goes a LONG way! Use your intuition and figure out who could use it the most.

Translation from: Dyer, Wayne. Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao (p. 82). Hay House. Kindle Edition.



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