Advice to those Who Would Rule

England’s King Charles the first, a foolish man, and an unworthy leader believing with all his heart he deserved to be a king because he was the son of one, was beheaded on this day in 1649. No great loss. Turns out that in a bad attempt at poetic justice the dictator who ended up in charge following Charles’ fall, Oliver Cromwell, was beheaded, or rather his corpse was beheaded on this day, some two years after his death.

Power seems a problematic thing, whether you inherit it or claim it by force of arms. One might speculate that power is problematic even if you come to it by more legitimate means, through elections or by force of personality and proclaimed message.

And, there’s some sort of corollary in that even if one exercises power with restraint and wisdom, one can be brought to an unpleasant end.

As it has been said, uneasy is the head that wears the crown.

So, a take away?

Well the good old Tao Te Ching has something to say on the subject in chapter 17. In Stephen Mitchell’s poetic rendition it reads

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

I’ve seen how libertarians want to take this to mean the leader doesn’t lead at all. I think this a misread.

Rather, there is something else going on.

There is a place for the leader. A necessary place.

And, a genuine connection between leader and led, a full participation of heart, can indeed allow a seamless life for ourselves and our communities.

Generous action.

Compelling non action…

And much good can follow…

Until, of course, the wheel turns a bit and all is off kilter again,

and once more, heads roll.

All leaders fall. The head with the crown is always eventually at some point uneasy…

But, that’s just how it all goes…

The price of living is dying.

The price of rule is fall.

’tis a dance, no doubt…

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