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.


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 ().


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