Daodejing Chapter 13: caring about disaster

「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 and disgrace are equally stressful.
High rank is a source of great trouble just like your body.
What does it mean that favor and disgrace are equally stressful?
Favor can lead to your downfall;
Gaining it is as stressful as losing it;
That is why favor and disgrace are equally stressful.
What does it mean that high rank is a source of great trouble like your body?
The reason I have great trouble is that I have a body.
If I didn’t have a body, what trouble would I have?
That’s why:
If you value the world as much as you value your body,
You can be trusted to govern it.
If you love the world as much as you love your body,
You can be trusted to take care of it.

An official career in the feudal courts of ancient China was not for the faint-hearted. Even if you managed to secure a high-level position, you were at constant risk of being dismissed or even losing your head at the capricious whim of the ruler you worked for (not to mention being stabbed in the back by a jealous rival). This is the reason why Laozi describes favor and disgrace as being equally alarming.

It is only natural for you to be concerned about disasters because of the damage and grief that they can cause you. Far from being a sign of needless anxiety and selfishness, being properly prepared for them enables you to develop a sense of caution that is vital for any effective leader. This is the reason why Laozi describes caring about yourself as being like caring about disaster.

As he concludes in the final line of the chapter, “If you love yourself as much as you love the world, you can be trusted to take care of it.”

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