Every presidential election year in the United States, we are given a clear picture of what a government out of balance does to its people. We see red states and blue states. We see people allying themselves as liberals or conservatives. We have secularists opposing the religious. In the Daodejing we find this obersvation, “When the balance of Tao is abandoned, secularism and righteousness emerge.” Our population is polarized and has been for quite some time. Why? Because those who are offered up for us to select as a leader pit us against one another. A divided populace is easier to control. Control is the goal of both extremes.
Another bit of wisdom from chapter 18 of the Daodejing, “Without the peace and harmony of balance, people turn to obedience and devotion.” The majority of our population advocates one of two general views of what their government should provide: Either a big government that is expected to take care of them or a big government that will protect and enforce their views of morality.
The appeal of having a government that takes from the people who have wealth to provide for those who do not is understandable. After all, good people want to help those in need and there is nothing wrong with providing assistance to others. However the old saying, “if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn” has merit. Decades of handouts, in the name of helping others, have created a perpetual dependency for a sector of the population. Instead of paying people’s way and giving them money to buy the things they need, invest in them. Use the resources you have taken from others to provide opportunities for improvement. Give them free skills training. Give them education. Provide job placement. Give them the help that will let them provide for themselves. Help them achieve instead of sitting in their government created pens waiting to be fed.
On the other side of the spectrum are the people who long for the “old days”, the romanticized time from their youth when things were simply better. These people want their views not only defended by the government, but also unilaterally applied to everyone. This view might also be ideal except for one very big detail: diversity. Not everyone holds the same views. The Daodejing has this to say, “The more restrictions you place on people, the poorer and less virtuous they will become.” There are no universal moralities that are always right in every situation. Enforcement of any specific morality will eventually cause harm. Instead of trying to control others’ views through legislation, social pressures and sanctions, a government should only apply restrictions that protect people from each other. Apply penalties for actually harming other citizens but stay out of their lives otherwise.
What does a government “in balance” look like then? According to the wisdom of the Daodejing, “The best leaders and the best governments are the ones people hardly know exist.” The ideal government is minimally involved in the lives of its people. They don’t think about it because they’re content. People are happy. People trust one another. People have a sense of personal achievement. This is the government of balance. The government that has no say over how we live and believe.