Chapter 49 – Is It Naive?
The sage has no invariable mind of his own;
he makes the mind of the people his mind.
To those who are good [to me], I am good; and to those who are not
good [to me], I am also good;–and thus [all] get to be good. To
those who are sincere [with me], I am sincere; and to those who are
not sincere [with me], I am also sincere;–and thus [all] get to be
The sage has in the world an appearance of indecision, and keeps
his mind in a state of indifference to all. The people all keep their
eyes and ears directed to him, and he deals with them all as his
Translation by James Legge (1891)
It seems that this chapter should be an easy one for those in our Christian culture to understand. We know that we should be good and sincere and even-handed for the sake of each of those virtues. It is not for us to judge others because a loving God sends the rains upon the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).
This chapter should also be an easy one for those who have even a basic notion of the Tao. Lao Tzu has told us in many ways that the sage treats all humanity as straw dogs, so no distinction is made between those who are good and those who are not, or between those who are sincere and those who are not.
Still, many who read what Lao Tzu tells us in this chapter are going to think that his admonitions are a bit naïve. Even in Christian society we are regularly told that we must “trust but verify.” There are famous works such as Machiavelli’s The Prince that teach us to manipulate others for our advantage. The same could be said of Chinese classics like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. After all, if you don’t look out for your own interests, you can’t expect anyone else to do it for you. No one except maybe your mother or father who deals fairly and lovingly with all his or her children (like the sage here).
The way of the world is not the subject of this chapter. The subject is Te – Virtue. This is how the sage does it. The more we each emulate the sage, the more the world becomes good, sincere and unified. Thus, the way of the world can ultimately follow the way of the sage.