By City Year
The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.
- from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, as translated by Stephen Mitchell
Water is a powerful metaphor for social change, seeking the lowest level and therefore touching and connecting all things, flowing around what it cannot move, making good things grow, acting as a solvent on things that are stuck, and putting out fire – such as the anger that can too easily consume change agents and the causes they are passionate about.
Water is also the ideal metaphor for an idea coined by Robert Greenleaf, the “servant leader,” who leads through service, example, and assistance rather than through power and authority.
Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher (circa 600 B.C.) has provided us with a metaphor – and a blueprint to improve the world and live as a servant leader: Simplicity. Fairness. Generosity. Flexibility. Presence.
And above all: equanimity – an unshakeable sense of security in one’s self. When we have mastered these skills, breaking down social barriers, building community, and effecting meaningful change will follow.
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