Lenten Observance: Day 2

“Tao te Ching,” chapters 3 & 4 — well really 3, which I find really speaks to me. “If you overesteem great men, people become powerless” — this idea has been with me at least as far back as the 1970s. In the early 1970s, DC comics spent a lot of time and ink on the question of the value/bane of superheroes — Superman held back some of his efforts, because he felt that Metropolitans were becoming too dependent on him and not trusting in their own efforts; Green Arrow and Green Lantern spent a year or so touring the country but keeping their super-powers somewhat in check, so that they would not be too dependent on their own image as super-heroes. This is a problem with having “saviors.” Not that I have anything against white knights (they certainly look great), but each of us has some power to affect our lives and the lives around us. When we give up that power by investing so much hope in the few we imagine have “real power,” we make ourselves weaker than we are, and we don’t try to do for ourselves. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to let all go, and let someone else run things, but there is a risk — we weaken ourselves and forget all that each of us can do. Later in chapter 3, the “Tao” says “He (the good leader) helps people lose everything they know, everything they desire, and creates confusion in those that think they know.” What a powerful idea — the leader as someone who stirs things up, and then steps aside (wu wei — doing-not doing)so that they must work on their own issues. I once had an Algebra teacher, Fr. Muldoon, at Boston College HS. He kept on telling me that I could do better and that I should come to an after-school session to get extra help. Well, after enough of his suggesting this, I did stay after. He asked me to show him a problem I didn’t understand and then, after I had indicated such a problem, he simply handed me a piece of chalk and pointed me to the blackboard. I asked him what help he was to provide, and he pointed to the chalk and to the blackboard. That was it. I must have spent a good 40 min. on that problem, but I did eventually figure it out. When I had, he nodded, as if to say “thus endeth the lesson.” I think I was probably a bit better in math from that point on, and he never again recommended that I stay after. If I continued to have problems after that, I did find some reserve within myself to try and see the problem and work towards a solution. I wonder if Fr. Muldoon had read the “Tao te Ching.” It remains one of my favorite teacher moments.

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