Lao Tzu was a brilliant, brilliant man - in Tao Te Ching, he wrote this:
- We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
- But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
- We turn clay to make a vessel;
- But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
- We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
- And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
- Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.
This should be tattooed on the foreheads of every leader and politician so that they can read it every time they look in the mirror (I presume mirror-looking is a frequent act). Governing (or leading in that rare case) is as much about what you do as what you don't do; it is as much (more) about the things you help happen as it is about the things you prevent from happening. It is indeed as much about the usefulness of what is not as it is about the structure we create. But most critically, governing is about creating a space in which the people it serves are allowed to be great, and to be happy.
I do believe the gentlemen that wrote the Declaration of Independence were aware of Lao Tzu and others, and were themselves brilliant and well-thinking men. Here's a bit of their work:
- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Read this a couple of times to see how in a mere 202 words so many powerful ideas were collected; how so much power and possibility were granted to both the citizenry and its government. Knowing that this was written to set up the throwing off of one "such Government" is powerful. This document is one of the most eloquent demonstrations of creating a container; knowing full well that the value lies not in the shape or structure of the container, but the power of what it holds, and the potential that creates.
When you read of today's political machinations, you can't help but wonder why our politicians (I can't call them leaders) are bent on creating ever more walls. It's like saying that everything that could possibly happen needs a law to "manage" it.
But we fail to realize that humans are innately skilled at finding the 11th door out of a 10-door room. Every new wall we create invites (nay, demands) loophole seekers, makes it harder to find "miscreants" because the very walls obscure things, and forces us to waste energy policing existing walls.
We also ignore the very purpose of government - to secure their citizens' right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, among others. Today the purpose seems to be to enumerate and prevent misdeeds.
How sad that we're defined by what we mustn't do.
We are voidphobes. Whether it is a lull in conversation, or a lull in behavior, or a lull in regulation - we are much more comfortable when cocooned (straitjacketed?) in structure and "no."
Consider our schools and what we impose on children from the first moment of "institutionalization" - rules, constraints, expectations, examinations. I wonder if this is one reason we have so many more "atypical" children in schools today than ever before? Our definition of "normal" is compliance, living within walls, and accommodating adult expectations. We resist, as Seth put it, exposing ourselves. This might be the worst thing adults can do in service of human evolution, and caring for our young.
A free society, a free people, a free nation are powerful, powerful ideas. They live only when what is celebrated is not the walls around us, but the vast, possibility-filled spaces we inhabit.
Our future may well hinge on our ability to resist avoiding voids.