If you want to shrink something, you must first stretch it.
If you want to weaken something, you must first strengthen it.
If you want to destroy something, you must first raise it up.
If you want to take something, you must first give it.
This is called subtle enlightenment.
The soft and weak overcome the hard and strong.
Fish cannot leave deep water;
A state must not make a show of strength.
Laozi saw the universe as being in a dynamic state, with opposite forces in constant tension with each other in a process that is called reversion by many scholars. Whenever one of the two forces reaches its natural peak or extreme, it inevitably morphs into its opposite state – like a flower that withers as soon as it reaches full bloom or a tyrannical ruler who sows the seeds of his own downfall through the brutal exploitation of his people.
A smart leader not only understands the principle and process of reversion, but also figures out how to harness them in order to find the most effective way of dealing with a situation they are facing. If for example, you are battling with an aggressive competitor, it is probably better to step back and conserve your resources rather than confront them directly so that you are ready to move when it vacates a sport or burns itself out. Achieving mastery of this theory and practice isn’t very easy of course No wonder Laozi describes it as “subtle enlightenment!”
Some commentators argue that the final two lines of this chapter are out of place, while others see evidence of possible political meddling from Laozi in them. However, a third interpretation that Laozi is simply cautioning rulers against intimidating their people seems more likely given the overall context of the passage.