affirmation.jpg

Affirmation

Most people do the right thing and keep it to themselves. Some people can't do anything without letting us know.

Most people do nothing when it's the right thing to do. Some people need a reason to do the right thing.

But when kindness does something, it does so for nothing, and when duty does something, it has a good reason.

So when my cause is righteous and people aren't woke, I lose something important when I start making threats and promise the moon.

I'm lost and I'm not doing the right thing. I lack character and I'm not being kind. I lack compassion and I'm not being responsible. I lack dignity and I'm not righteous at all.

When the righteous have a legitimate grievance but justify violence, when a prophet dreams of glory but leads us to ruin, that's when moral authority lies in gratitude, not grievance, in fact, not fiction.

So cancel one, claim the other.

Notes

The more I look at the Daodejing, and Daoist poetry in general, the more optimistic and upbeat it seems, the more rational and practical.

In the sayings, I take as not moralizing, and and are something like has no reason to do and has a reason to do. is the something that does (or doesn't) need to get done.

The poem riffs on , and , three of the five Confucian virtues (). All of these terms have fairly standard interpretations in English that I've mostly just ignored. Rectify me as you like.

is character. It's doing the right thing, and it flows directly from moral principle (), the important something that we lose and lack () when we start making threats () and promises ().

is decency. It's the dignity and respect that come from being responsible, from being kind (), and from doing the right thing ().

The righteous (), legitimate () their grievance () yet violent () their means (). The prophet (), principled () their tradition () yet stupid () their means ( in Wangbi, in Guodian).

In contrast, wise elders () reject () cynical, destructive solutions () and welcome () healthy, positive ones (), just as they reject utopian fantasy () and welcome fact-based common sense ().

Vocabulary

shàng
一 1 + 2
top; superior, highest; go up, send up
彳 60 + 12
ethics, morality, virtue
一 1 + 3
no, not; un-; negative prefix
shì
日 72 + 5
indeed, yes, right; to be; demonstrative pronoun, this, that
人 9 + 3
by means of; thereby, therefore; consider as; in order to
yǒu
月 74 + 2
have, own, possess; exist
xià
一 1 + 2
under, underneath, below; down; inferior; bring down
shī
大 37 + 2
lose; make mistake, neglect
火 86 + 8
negative, no, not; lack, have no
wèi
火 86 + 5
do, handle, govern, act; be
ér
而 126 + 0
and; and then; and yet; but; Kangxi radical 126
zhī
丿 4 + 3
marks preceding phrase as modifier of following phrase; it, him her, them; go to
rén
人 9 + 2
humaneness, benevolence, kindness
羊 123 + 7
right conduct, righteousness
示 113 + 13
social custom; manners; courtesy; rites
艸 140 + 7
do not, is not, can not; negative
yīng
心 61 + 13
should, ought to, must
刀 18 + 7
rule, law, regulation; grades
rǎng
手 64 + 17
seize, take by force; repel
肉 130 + 13
arm
rēng
手 64 + 2
throw, hurl; throw away, cast
攴 66 + 5
ancient, old; reason, because
dào
辵 162 + 9
path, road, street; method, way
hòu
彳 60 + 6
behind, rear, after; descendents
大 37 + 1
man, male adult, husband; those
zhě
老 125 + 4
that which; he who; those who
zhōng
心 61 + 4
loyalty, devotion, fidelity
xìn
人 9 + 7
trust, believe; letter
báo bó
艸 140 + 13
thin, slight, weak; poor, stingy
luàn
乙 5 + 12
confusion, state of chaos; create chaos, revolt
shǒu
首 185 + 0
head; first; leader, chief; a poem; Kangxi radical 185
qián
刀 18 + 7
in front, forward; preceding
shí shì
言 149 + 12
recognize, understand, know
huá
艸 140 + 8
flowery; illustrious; Chinese
心 61 + 9
stupid, doltish, foolish
shǐ
女 38 + 5
begin, start; then, only then
大 37 + 0
big, great, vast, large, high
zhàng
一 1 + 2
unit of length equal 3.3 meters; gentleman, man, husband
chù
虍 141 + 5
place, locale; department
八 12 + 6
his, her, its, their; that
hòu
厂 27 + 7
thick; substantial; greatly
尸 44 + 5
live, dwell, reside, sit
shí
宀 40 + 11
real, true, solid, honest
厶 28 + 3
go away, leave, depart
彳 60 + 5
that, there, those
又 29 + 6
take, receive, obtain; select
止 77 + 2
this, these; in this case, then