Daodejing: the power of fear

There’s nothing like fear to motivate people (though I suppose you can always spice it up with a dollop of uncertainty and doubt). Most of the time, it’s a negative force that holds us back from doing what we really want to do with our lives because we are frightened of losing what we have – just like a high-ranking official terrified of being dismissed or even losing his head at the whim of the capricious ruler upon whose favor his livelihood depend.Sometimes, however, fear can be positive force that stops us from acting too rashly. It is this kind of fear that Laozi prizes in a ruler: someone who acts with great caution because they value the security of their realm and people as much as they value their own safety.

「寵辱若驚,貴大患若身。何謂寵辱若驚?寵為下,得之若驚,失之若驚,是謂寵辱若驚。何謂貴大患若身?吾所以有大患者,為吾有身。及吾無身,吾有何患?故貴以身為天下,若可寄天下;愛以身為天下,若可託天下。」
Favor is as alarming as disgrace.
Caring about disaster is like caring about yourself.
What does it mean that favor is as alarming as disgrace?
Favor can lead to your downfall;
Gaining it is as frightening as losing it;
That is why favor is as alarming as disgrace.
What does it mean that caring about disaster is like caring about yourself?
The reason you care about disaster is because you care about yourself.
If you don’t care about yourself, why would you care about disaster?
That’s why:
If you care about yourself as much as you care about the world, you can be trusted to govern it.
If you love yourself as much as you love the world, you can be trusted to take care of it.

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