Chapter 38’s A man of the highest virtue does not keep to virtue and that is why he has virtue served as a model for raising my sons. This worked really well. Yet, given this ‘Taoist’ upbringing, it is odd to see how rigidly law abiding they are at times. For example, we headed down the street to order a sandwich at the corner deli. I grabbed a beer to drink (rare for me) as we walked there. They protested, saying it was against the law to walk in public and drink beer. I thought that nonsense. Drink and drive no way, but drink and walk? (photo: mother and sons)
All my life I have only obeyed laws I agreed with, so they didn’t pick up their highly law-abiding ways from Papa obviously. Perhaps Mama or the culture at large influenced them. Still, given the circumstances of their childhood, I doubt they learned it from anyone in particular. This shows the deep underlying pull of the ethical paradigm that surrounds everyone (see Ethics: Do They Work Anymore?). Most conform, some rebel, but everyone feels it.
Virtue and ethics are symptoms of dysfunction and hypocrisy, as chapter 18 bluntly points out, When the great way falls into disuse, There is benevolence and rectitude; When cleverness emerges, There is great hypocrisy. Virtue is ineffective at best, and downright debilitating at worst, as chapter 38 points out, A man of the lowest virtue never strays from virtue and that is why he is without virtue. Chapter 1’s disclaimer applies to virtue: ‘The [virtue] that can be spoken of is not the constant [virtue]’. Obviously, this requires a nuanced approach.
For example, I never told them to say “thank you” when someone gave them something. Instead, let them one day say, “It happened to us naturally”, as chapter 17 notes. It was embarrassing at times for us when our ostensibly rude kids would not say “thank you” when receiving a gift. The point was, I wanted them to be authentic, rather than being prodded into displaying a facade of virtue. Again, chapter 38 tells it like it is, Hence, when the way was lost there was virtue; when virtue was lost, there was benevolence; when benevolence was lost, there was rectitude; when rectitude was lost, there were the rites. The rites are the wearing thin of loyalty and good faith, and the beginning of disorder.
So far, this experiment is turning out fine, bolstering my faith in the truth of chapter 48, It is always through not meddling that the empire is won. Should you meddle, then you are not equal to the task of winning the empire. Oh, and yes, they soon felt the social need to say “Thank you”.