Daodejing Chapter 57: win over the world through non-interference

Richard Brown
2 min readAug 24, 2023

Rule a state with uprightness.
Wage war with cunning.
Win over all-under-heaven
Through non-interference.
How do I know this to be true?
Through the following:
The more restrictions and prohibitions
There are in all-under-heaven,
The poorer people are.
The more sharpened weapons people possess,
The more troubled the state is.
The more clever and cunning people are,
The more novelties proliferate.
The more laws and decrees there are,
The more thieves and robbers appear.
The sage says:
I practice effortless action,
And the people are transformed
Of their own accord.
I cherish stillness,
And the people do what is right
Of their own accord.
I do not interfere,
And the people prosper
Of their own accord.
I am free of desire,
And the people return
To the uncarved block
Of their own accord.

「以正治國,以奇用兵,以無事取天下;吾何以知其然哉,以此!天下多忌諱,而民彌貧;人多利器,國家滋昏;人多伎巧,奇物滋起;法令溢彰,盜賊多有;故聖人云:我無為而民自化,我好靜而民自正,我無事而民自富,我無欲而民自樸!」

The more you attempt to micromanage your team, the more ingenious everyone will become in creating workarounds to avoid the restrictions you place on them. The open and transparent working environment you loudly proclaim your commitment to in your corporate mission statement will soon become a nest of vipers in which everybody is sharpening their swords to protect themselves against attacks from everyone else.

The more you interfere in your team’s work, the more likely you are to lose your staff because of the lack of trust and confidence you show in them. Better to step back and let them get on with the job that you employed them for. By giving everyone the room that they need to flourish and grow, the chances are that they will perform far better than you could possibly have imagined.

Notes
(1) This is the first of a series of chapters that cover the application of non-action/effortless action (無為/ wúwéi) and its sibling non-interference (無事/wúshì) to governance. see Chapter 17, in which Laozi describes the best ruler as “one whose presence is unknown to his people.”

(2) Even though their philosophies were very different in many ways, Laozi and Confucius had similar views on the role of the ruler and opposed excessive government interference in people’s lives. See Analects of Confucius 15.5:

Confucius said: “If there was a ruler who achieved order through effortless action it was Shun, wasn’t it? How did he do it? He composed himself with reverence and sat facing south. That was all.”

No prizes for guessing what they would think about the increasing number of rules and regulations that are being imposed in modern times!

3.) I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province. A great place to visit!

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.