Toon-Te-Ching: Verse 13

Welcome to this week’s installment of the Toon-Te-Ching.  Each week we are taking one of the 81 verses of the Tao-Te-Ching, pairing it with a toon and connecting the teaching to our work life.

Verse 13

Favor and disgrace seem alarming.
High status greatly afflicts your person.

Why are favor and disgrace alarming?
Seeking favor is degrading:
alarming when it is gotten,
alarming when it is lost.

Why does high status greatly afflict your person?
The reason we have a lot of trouble
is that we have selves.
If we had no selves,
what trouble would we have?

Man’s true self is eternal,
yet he thinks, I am this body and will soon die.
If we have no body, what calamities can we have?

One who sees himself as everything
is fit to be guardian of the world.

One who loves himself as everyone
is fit to be teacher of the world.

High Status can make you a jerk.   A friend told me that at their company when nice people get promoted to director, they become heartless.  She saw it over and over again. There’s something about that specific promotion that is the tipping point in their corporate culture.

There have been many studies linking an increase in power and status to a decrease in empathy.  Here’s one if you would like to read more.   And this one proving that BMW drivers are the least considerate drivers on the road.

We are doing studies today to prove what Lao-Tzu knew 4000 years ago, high status is an affliction.

High status can be alarming when it is lost.  I had a job once where I was the golden child.  I knew it was a shaky position to be in, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised one day, on a dime, it turned and I became Public Enemy #1.  Alarming when it was lost. Even though I saw it coming.

We’ve all heard stories of someone who ‘used to be…’  “Before the depression, she was wealthy.” “He was famous until he got addicted to drugs.”  We cling to that status even after it is lost, as proof of our worthiness. What would your worth be if it didn’t have a title attached to it?

Should we not seek to advance?  The Tao is not saying that you can’t advance.  What I believe it’s saying is not to base your value on what others think.  Brene Brown calls this “hustling for your self-worth.” If you know your own worth, no one can add or subtract from it.  You are no longer at the mercy of popular opinion.

Selflessness at work.  The verse is urging us to drop our egos and be more in harmony with the universe.  When are you one with the universe you are “fit to be guardian...and teacher of the world”.  Think about that phrase for a moment. We typically think of guardians and teachers as higher status.  But the passage is saying that in fact, you can’t be a true guardian or teacher unless you are serving everyone, instead of yourself.  

I used to believe that as long as I aligned my interests with others, I was in harmony with others.  Do you see the flaw in my logic? It’s not harmony if you are basing your flow on what others think. It’s conformance, it’s compliance. The Tao tells us to ask out how you can uniquely serve, and hold to that.  

Brain Twist: This week I want you to simply notice the effects of status in your life.  What is your internal reaction when you meet someone who says they are a “VP” or a “CEO”?  Is your response to an idea different depending on the rank of the person who says it?  


Verse translation credit: Dyer, Wayne. Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao (p. 60). Hay House. Kindle Edition.