Setting the Bar

Laozi said that in a healthy society, promises are easy to keep, work is easy to do, tradition is easy to follow, debt is easy to repay.

So being a student isn't like being a politician and politicians aren't teachers. Teachers, farmers, builders, merchants, we all have different callings, separate concerns. That's why farmers talk to each other about crops and teachers talk about discipline. It's why builders talk to each other about building and merchants talk about prices. That way teachers don't lose control and builders don't botch jobs. That way farmers don't waste effort and merchants don't lose money. Happy with our lot in life, we socialize separately, we're organized differently, but we all do easy jobs and don't grumble, make mistakes and get corrected, get it right and get credit.

Prophets and visionaries are geniuses, but a healthy society doesn't expect much of people. Knowledgeable, ambitious, argumentative, eloquent, we all know they're talented, but an enlightened master doesn't ask much of apprentices. Decadent societies are in decline, out of touch with changing times, and teachers are tyrants, but healthy societies aren't trying to change people.

That's why we don't hold students to impossibly high standards or expect institutions to live up to utopian ideals. That's why we don't have philosopher kings and everyone is expected to get a basic education. That's why we don't let idiots lead and armed forces are subject to law. We don't look back to an ideal past and we're adaptable. We take what exists and work with it.

Society today sets a high bar and blames us when we don't measure up, gives us hard jobs and punishes us when we don't succeed, sends us on dangerous missions and executes us when we aren't brave. People respond by polishing their stories and lying to authorities, by playing dirty tricks and taking stupid risks. Laws are harsh, punishment severe, but we can't help ourselves. A cornered animal lashes out, a frightened hen will peck, desperate people lie.

That's what I think he meant.