Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Laotse and Eric Hoffer: the odd couple

I first encountered this theme in Laotse's Tao Te Ching and, to be honest,  I didn't understand the significance or the reality at that time.  A day ago, while browsing through Eric Hoffer's Reflections on the Human Condition, I ran across the same theme which was expressed in the identical words that Laotse used. 

Frankly, I still don't accept this as possible.  Perhaps it's because I live in a different time than either Laotse or Eric Hoffer.  Here are the two statements in question.

17.  Rulers

Of the best rulers
     The people (only) know that they exist;
The next best they praise;
The next they fear;
And the next they revile.

      When they do not command the people's faith,
      Some will lose faith in them,
      And then they resort to oaths!
But (of the best) when their task is accomplished,
       their work done,
The people all remark, "We have done it ourselves."
-- Laotse --
The Wisdom of Laotse
Edited by Lin Yutang

No. 87

The genuine creator creates something that has a life of its own, something that can exist and function without him   This is true not only of the writer, artist, and scientist but of creators in other fields.  The creative teacher is he who, in the words of Comenius, "teaches less and his students learn more."  A creative organizer creates an organization that can function well without him.  When a genuine leader has done his work, his followers will say, "We have done it ourselves,"  and feel that they can do great things without great leaders.  With the noncreative it is the other way around: in whatever they do they arrange things so that they themselves become indispensable.  

--  Eric Hoffer --
from Reflections on the Human Condition. 

In both statements this theme is expressed  in identical wording: "We have done it ourselves."  Is this possible?  If their accomplishments are not attributed to them, then how do we know they are great leaders or very creative workers? 

Would this work in a democracy where one must win the approval of the voters?  Would a "do nothing" legislator or governor or president ever get reelected if the people didn't recognize the value of that person's actions while in office?  


  1. Fascinating! When "we've done it ourselves" become "we've done it to ourselves," then things get more interesting. I think all eras in history live in the best of times and the worst of times with respect to leaders and followers, and I tend to hold responsible followers as much as leaders, and that leads me back to the realization honest people need to embrace: "we've done it to ourselves."

  2. R.T.,

    I think honest people do realize that, but the problem is the other 70% or 80% of the population.

  3. if i get reincarnated(i'm not holding my breath)i'd like to devote some time studying mass psychology from a historical perspective; i've long sensed that humans do repeat the same behaviors over long periods of time. it might be informative to try to understand why...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      Good luck.

      As some cynic, or perhaps a realist, once said, "We learn nothing from history except that we learn nothing from history."

    2. haha! that's too catchy to not be true!

    3. Madpuddle,

      Sadly, it seems that it is all too true.

    4. yes... madpuddle? hmmm... i've been called worse....

    5. Mudpuddle,

      Oops! Sorry about that. Mea culpa! mea culpa! mea maxima culpa.

    6. no, i knew it was a fault of the keyboard - just kind of humorous and maybe a bit apropos...

    7. Mudpuddle,

      More a brain/finger/keyboard disconnect.

  4. This is a great post and you raise such interesting questions.

    I think that there is some relevance to modern society and Democracy. I think that sometimes leaders drive policies that lead to change, both good and bad, that fly under most of the public's radar. This is far from Universal, but it does happen.

    1. Brian Joseph,

      Thanks for the kind words. Some probably do, but I can't think of any examples, for the changes that have taken place that I am aware of always have someone's name attached to it (and sometimes more than one will claim credit).