The Soft Survive

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Lao-Tzu wrote:

Living people are soft and tender
Corpses are hard and stiff
The living grass, the trees, are soft and pliant
Dead they’re dry and brittle

So hardness and stiffness go with death
Tenderness, softness go with life

And the hard sword fails
The stiff tree is felled
The hard and great go under
The soft and weak stay up.

-Tao Te Ching Chapter 76

Is this strange idea the way the world really works? Though it’s a comforting thought for those of us who aren’t “hard and great,” it often seems the hardest of people are ruling, while the soft are ground underfoot. But lately I’ve seen that people who seem beaten down and hopeless can indeed prevail, if they are flexible and resilient.  They may suffer for years or generations, but they stay up, even triumph.

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9 Responses to The Soft Survive

  1. Roger Eaton says:

    Well, this is very likable, David! There is a Christian passage along the same lines as I recall, the meek shall inherit the earth. And even the toppled tree might send up a row of branches, adapting as it can. I’m not so sure we have generations though. It is looking more like we are the ones we have been waiting for, as the saying goes.

  2. Nice piece, thanks David.

  3. Nice piece David. Think Ghandi, think Martin Luther King. You could point out that they were ‘soft’ and hence were killed/murdered/assassinated by ‘hard’ forces, however they are still with us in the legacies they left behind; they have become part of ‘us’ even now.

  4. Bill Bruckner says:

    Thanks, David. Best wishes.

  5. Liz says:

    I love this, David.

    I had a wonderful experience in the checkout line at a fabric store this week! I happened to be behind a woman wearing a Canoe Journey sweatshirt. I introduced myself and asked if there was any way our kayak club could gather and salute them, and she said, “Oh, you should be pulling (paddling) alongside us!” So I’m going to try to make it happen somehow.
    The Canoe Journey is a tradition in the Northwest since 1989. All the Canoe families from native tribes or nations around the Puget Sound paddle to a different host each year: the Swinomish, the Makah, the Muckleshoot, the Nisqually, and so on. Then theyhave a big party! The families make and decorate their own ocean going canoes, and it is a fantastic way to honor and keep up the traditional ingenuity of the peoples of this region.

  6. Maureen says:

    Excited to read this! Unexpected freedom and resilience are pet obsessions of mine.

    As in Bali, I’m reminded of Laos — the most bombed nation on earth, not per capita, but in total tonnage, in spite of its diminutiveness — the much-trammeled hill tribes there are often described as regressive/primitive/non-aggressive, but have in fact flowed water-like from the grasping fist of state-authority, time and time again, throughout a long history of non-violence. Travelling there myself, I was struck by the people’s gentle psychological strength, their profound social equality (men and women, different but absolutely equal; people of different physical and mental abilities, different but absolutely engaged) and most of all, their common and absolute cognisance that if the state began to interfere too heavily in their lives, they would simply, “move away deeper into the mountains.” For further reading on this perspective of tribal Laos, I highly recommend James Scott’s book, The Art of Not Being Governed; similarly, his book The Weapons of the Weak discusses how mostly-overlooked “soft survive” methods of protest/rebellion are used by the world’s oppressed.

  7. That is one of my favorite chapters of Tao Te Ching. I’ve certainly seen some pretty lively soft-bodied people and some pretty lifeless hard-bodied people in my life.

  8. jim snell says:

    I read the blogs and excellent comments and ideas from the Tao.

    I have front row seat on this.

    My Mom was the “strong one” in our family unit, my Dad was considered the “weak” one.

    My mom passed away when she was in early 70′s with lung cancer from smoking.

    My dad lived on till he was in mid 80′s – quite a few years after my mom passed away.

    My mom was considered the solid oak while my Dad was the flexible willow bending back and forth in the winds.

    Thank you for the excellent thoughtfull comments as well as those from the Tao.

  9. Tim says:

    Hey, I just realized that from “VICTIM” to “VICTOR” is just 2 letters.

    Go figure.

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