Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Real Life Tao - Knowing the Difference

In a response to Wen Tzu - Verse 61, Part II, C. Om paraphrased the Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr. In its original form, it goes like this:
God, Grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage, to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom, to know the difference.
In many ways, I think Lao Tzu would agree with the general tenor of this prayer. He constantly implores us to move with the flow and not against the current.

Needless to say, the big catch in all this is figuring out what we can change/go with the flow and what we can't change/fighting the current. Like a stream with swirling waters, it's not always easy to figure out which swirl represents the main current OR if there is a dominant current at all.

In general, the only way we can figure out the difference between the two is with hindsight! Many might posit that those efforts to affect change that proved successful underscore that change was possible and it was within the flow. Efforts that proved unsuccessful underscore the idea that change was not possible and the effort was made against the current.

Wouldn't it be nice if it was that easy?!

Unfortunately, it isn't that easy at all. If we look back at the great social change movements of the last century or so, we find that the initial efforts were very much against the flow of then-current times.

For example, let's take a look at the Civil Rights movement in the US to win equality for our black brothers and sisters. When the first people broached this idea, it was viewed as being completely ludicrous. Everyone with a mind knew that Negroes were savages and not altogether bright. Heck, in the US Constitution, a negro man didn't even count as one person!

When the first abolitionists tepidly began to formulate the idea that black people were just as human and just as smart as white people, the majority of citizens thought they should be locked up. Many abolitionists suffered public ridicule, loss of business or careers, imprisonment, lynchings and death.

Years later, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came along, many blacks begged them to tone it down because they believed that things never would change and all their efforts simply were making life harder for their black brethren.

The point I'm trying to get across is that what seemed to be against the current for over one hundred years is now part of the current or what seemed incapable of change has, in fact, changed. We know this by looking back at the history of the movement, but those courageous few at the BEGINNING of the movement had no way of knowing if change was possible or doable.

Since each of us is a finite being -- one that cannot see into the future -- sometimes we have to take a leap of faith (it pains me greatly to use that analogy because of the baggage that comes with it). While being able to discern what Niebuhr wrote of IS important, there are times in each life when we simply can't know one way or the other and so we must side with what we believe will create the most harmony.

And, most importantly, we must remain ever cognizant of the fact that we may be wrong as wrong can be!

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.


  1. I don't think Tao tells us not to go against the current, it tells us to be aware of the current. If you want to go against the current you use different means than if you are going with it. To move against the flow requires paddles, sails, or some other means. You can't just drift along and expect things to change, it requires some force of resistance...

  2. In my experience, we do have another way for telling if a chosen leap of faith against the current will be successful or not. It can be described as intuition, inspiration, or even imagination.

    Before we can tap into this precious resource we all have, we must be able to still the mind and find our center. The voice of intuition is a "calm knowing." It is our higher consciousness speaking to us. Dr. King said himself, "Mine eyes have seen the glory..." He had, "a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

    Any visionary who affects a major change, effectively changing the world's paradigm , has "seen" it beforehand. To turn it into a reality requires a very powerful intention back by emotion, but it can be done.

    Though the word 'faith' has lots of ambiguous meaning, it still serves here. Dr King also said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase."

    I feel anything can be done to redirect the current as long as you are aware of it and how it works.

  3. The main reason most people see things any differently today than they did back then is because laws were passed to make them criminals if they did not.
    I don't have any "brothers" or "sisters". Not black, not white, not gay, not muslim, not christian...
    I am an only child, and I rather like it that way.
    The only state I really value is the kind where only one may go at a time.

    And intuition - as previously noted by C.Om - is a fine thing indeed.

  4. Donna,
    I would disagree. My reading of Lao Tzu is that he suggests we can make changes within the current just like a river changes the direction of its channel. A river doesn't do this by moving against itself, it finds ways to effect change by going with the flow.

    C. Om,
    I don't disagree that intuition plays a critical role, but a person's intuition isn't always correct...hence the need for a leap of faith.

    I meant brothers and sisters in that all humans -- all things -- are connected. If a person believes we are all manifestations of the One, then everything is family.

  5. Maybe it was the unfairness of the Jim Crow laws (not to mention slavery) that was flowing against the Tao. The current was too strong, though, and eventually, racial inequality had to succumb to a (somewhat) more just society.


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