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.

One thought on “The Tao Te Ching: Verse Fifty-Eight

  1. Misuse of power is the cause of suffering! Those who manipulate situations and others for their own…not so honorable purposes are NOT TRUE LEADERS! That being said we have no control over anyone but ourselves…therefore if you do the right thing good things happen eventually! Since what you sow is what you reap…those who misuse power will be discontent!

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