Thoughts on Laozi, Taoism, and Leadership

photography of book page

Leaders should do what they feel is best for their people, whether or not the leader believes that decision to be popular. It is a leader’s responsibility to use force as little as possible, and violence as the ultimate last resort. In the use of force, lives are often put at risk and risking lives is never the most pleasant option in resolving a conflict. Diplomacy should always be preferred. 

The Taoist philosopher Laozi says of a leader, “What he must do he does but not for glory, what he must do he does but not for show, what he must do he does but not for self. He has done it because it had to be done.”

Taoists believe it is best to be relatively passive and action is only taken when it is absolutely necessary. Because Taoism is a philosophy of the individual, one would think it can be somewhat difficult to tie it to leadership. A leader, therefore, should not be entirely passive, but rather only force people to do something when absolutely necessary for the good of their people as a whole. 

The rest of the time, people should be allowed to pursue his or her own pursuits as long as they do not interfere with another’s pursuits. It would also be pertinent that resources be committed in the smallest amounts necessary. Therefore, it’s possible to apply Taoism to a group of people, as you could see a community as a single entity in and of itself.

In the case of conflicts, and even all-out war, it is important to understand that it is just part of a cycle. You may win now, but one day someone will rise up and challenge again. An act of force will eventually have a counter-force. Therefore, you must have a good reason to take aggressive action in the first place. 

However, a Taoist is not entirely a pacifist. The question to be asked is when force can be used properly. As a Taoist leader, it is important that force is only used when all other options have failed. Even then, only as much force as is necessary should ever be used. The most important thing of all is to avoid death whenever possible. As a leader, it is most important that the lives of others are the most sacred things of all.

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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