The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty

Ruling a large country is like cooking a small fish
Using the Tao to manage the world
Its demons have no power
Not only do its demons have no power
Its gods do not harm people

Not only do its gods not harm people
The sages also do not harm people
They both do no harm to one another
So virtue merges and returns

                                                                         Lao Tzu

The profound teaching of the Sixtieth Verse of the Tao Te Ching is to be very mindful when you are in a position of power. Discernment is the key competency. Unless there is a threat of creating a situation that is potentially/actually harmful to others, surround your decisions with space = patience.

Refuses to engage in unproductive conversation aimed at confusing your message and depleting your energy and better judgment; rather make negotiation, partnership and cooperation your mantra. This approach can never ensure reciprocal actions on the part of others but you must accept that the only mindset you can truly control is your own.

To the degree possible, resist being provoked. Maintain your health and spirit. Monitor your level of fatigue. Ensure that you gift yourself the renewing vitality that mediation (quieting your mind) can offer. If you see yourself as connected to the community of souls, it is difficult to do anyone intentional harm; for you realize, what is aimed at one affects all.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Fifty-Nine

In governing people and serving Heaven
There is nothing like conservation
Only with conservation is it called submitting early
Submitting early is called emphasis on accumulating virtues
Accumulating virtues means there is nothing one cannot overcome
When there is nothing that one cannot overcome
One’s limits are unknown
The limitations being unknown, one can possess sovereignty
With this mother principle of power, one can be everlasting
This is called deep roots and firm foundation
The Tao of longevity and lasting vision

                                                                                    Lao Tzu

There is nothing like conservation.” This is the verse of the Tao Te Ching in which I believe that Lao Tzu is actually giving professional and family caregivers instruction and permission to say, no and reserve some energy for another day.

Giving is on a caregiver’s DNA. Saying no to anyone asking for our services, support or buy-in is at times unthinkable. But that is because we do not give ourselves permission to weigh our own needs into the equation of all that is asked of us.

Accumulating virtues in Eastern thought refers to the development of your character so that you can not only identify those habitual behaviors that lead to the same regretful outcomes but you can actual resist falling into those patterns and make a better choice.

All too often I listen to caregivers as they explain to me that making their own needs a priority is not necessary, important or impossible at this time. I don’t buy it. Why is there always some piece of you left to offer to another and nothing of yourself left for you?

This habitual behavior can be changed. There is Middle Way. What is needed is the development of a relationship with yourself. A true relationship where you become attune to your moods, needs and desires and make a decision to take good care of this new friend. “When there is nothing that one cannot overcome, one’s limits are unknown.” These beautiful words serve as a reminder that behaviors that do not serve to anchor contentment in your life can be changed and a new way mastered. Find your Middle Way.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Fifty-Eight

When governing is lackluster
The people are simple and honest
When governing is scrutinizing
The people are shrewd and crafty

Misfortune is what fortune depends upon
Fortune is where misfortune hides beneath
Who knows their ultimate end?
They have no determined outcome
Rightness reverts to become strange
Goodness reverts to become wicked
The confusion of people
has lasted many long days

Therefore the sages are:
Righteous without being scathing
Incorruptible without being piercing
Straightforward without being ruthless
Illuminated without being flashy

                                                                  Lao Tzu

The renowned Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh writes in The Art of Power, “Misuse of power is the primary cause of suffering (discontent).” In essence, he is echoing the message in this fifty-eighth verse of the Tao, leadership is the foundation of the culture of an organization.

Much of what nurses are taught during their academic preparation shapes them to assume a leadership role. Thankfully, the profession has grown and departed from the approach that leadership is being powerful over others. Nursing, as a profession of caring, has taken a step back and looked closely at the elements necessary to creating a healthy work environment. In some organizations the creation of such workplaces is laudable; while in others the process is slow but steady. I offer these guidelines from Eastern thought as a respectful supplement to the work that many are doing.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, true leaders have worked hard to develop the following three virtues or qualities and use them as the foundation for the wise use of power:

  • The Virtue of Cutting Off is the quality of confronting one’s own issues with anger, desires and ignorance
  • The Virtue of Loving is the quality of being compassionate, thoughtful and forgiving
  • The Virtue of Insight is the quality of using wisdom to guide people towards contentment

Being in a position of leadership should not be used as an excuse to dominate; it should be a way of leading others towards their goals, making decisions that help society and making a difference in people’s lives.

By using compassion, wisdom and other Eastern teachings, it is possible to develop better personal leadership skills and to be a leader who is truly effective and respected. Leadership is the manner and means by which ideas and systems find their way into the culture of the group and become Sustainable. The more you empower others, the more necessary you become to someone in all the right ways as they move from dependency to capability. True leaders accept the responsibility to guide individuals and groups toward the pursuit of what is possible.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Fifty-Seven

Govern a country with upright integrity
Deploy the military with surprise tactics
Take the world with non-interference
How do I know this is so?
With the following:

When there are many restrictions in the world
The people become more impoverished
When people have many sharp weapons
The country becomes more chaotic
When people have many clever tricks
More strange things occur
The more laws are posted
The more robbers and thieves there are

Therefore the sage says:
I take unattached action, and the people transform themselves
I prefer quiet, and the people right themselves
I do not interfere, and the people enrich themselves
I have no desires, and the people simplify themselves

                                                                                     Lao Tzu

The Eastern philosophical approach to leadership outlined here clearly focuses on thinking of others and using power appropriately. In this fifty-seventh verse of the Tao Te Ching, Loa Tzu is sharing that having the right leadership attitude means using wisdom to make decisions that benefit humanity and create happiness. I understand these instructions to mean, do all you can to empower someone and then, let go and remain quietly available in the background.

The wisdom of these words seems oddly out of place. Placing those at the center of what you do as a leader does not align with most concepts of how ancient civilizations were organized. Yet, these guidelines and insights were offered 500 years before the time of Christ. It is amazing how much emphasis was placed on the individual’s Right to Self-determination

The need for Self-determination is slowly being recognized by professional caregivers and the healthcare industry at large. Organizations are embracing Patient-Centered Care Models as necessary, appropriate and forward thinking. The reason for this epiphany is not as important as the fact that the Model is indeed being recognizing, implemented and widely promoted.

Documenting wishes for life sustaining treatments and Advanced Directives are central to this Model. These are the communication tools that allow Self-determination by a patient when that patient can no longer advocate for themselves. While the idea of Advanced Directives came about in the 1980s, it is still an issue that stirs positive and negative emotions at our very core.

Professional caregivers must first come to terms with their own mortality and the reality that death is an inevitable outcome for everyone. It is nearly impossible to initiate a discussion on this subject with a patient if you have not yet faced your own anxiety, confusion and perhaps fear about this indisputable fact. How would you ever hope to make the connection necessary to speak about something so intimate if you have not personally confronted these emotions?

The information shared and the reassurance that last wishes will be respected with dignity, grace and peace must be offered from a sense of camaraderie and an acknowledged heartfelt common goal for a peaceful death. Only when a patient can safely express and pass through their fears can they become empowered to exercise their Rights. Let us not forget that information honestly shared; and the subsequent power that it gives is the antidote for fear.

Once patients are empowered with the assurance for the honoring of last wishes by professional caregivers, initiating that same discussion with their family is usually easier. No one ever wants to say goodbye to someone they love but we all must at some point. If one of the last things we can offer our patients is a strong voice so that they can communicate their wishes and have Self-determination; then we will have truly fulfilled one of our role as leaders in caregiving by using wisdom to make decisions that benefit humanity and create happiness.