American culture is incredibly optimistic and forward looking. Any setback or troubles that someone encounters are only temporary and can be overcome by a good attitude and hard work. If they can’t, there is always some lesson to be learned from the misfortune. But the default attitude is to assume that life will eventually work out.
Though I’m sure this mindset has been responsible for the level of material success the US has achieved in the past few centuries, I wonder what psychological cost we paid to attain it.
The Tao Te Ching offers a passage that is very un-American in its disposition towards life:
Accept disgrace willingly.
Accept misfortunate as the human condition.
What do you mean by “Accept disgrace willingly”?
Accept being unimportant.
Do not be concerned with loss or gain.
This is called “accepting disgrace willingly.”
What do you mean by “Accept misfortune as the human condition”?
Misfortune comes from having a body.
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?
Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.
According to Lao Tzu, disgrace (or low status) and misfortunate are natural and intimately tied with our material and social existence.
But is this a depressing conclusion? Or a liberating one?
For many, I imagine it’s depressing, akin to realizing after you’ve been in the working world for a few years that you’ll never be a firefighter or astronaut or whatever you thought was cool when you were young and naïve.
But, if we can accept that it’s normal to be unimportant, would we treat others better i.e. with less arrogance? If we can accept that our bodies are weak, can we recognize that others are weak and might also need to be cared for?
Something to think about….