The Tao: Redefining Heroism in the Twenty-First Century
In the twenty-first century it is almost impossible not to be caught up in the trap of technology and social media; thus, it really takes a great amount of bravery and heroism to be able to live in the moment. We become more and more connected to the material world while drifting further away from spiritual values which make us truly heroic. Society becomes more and more complicated, impatient and selfish each day, without realizing that to be able to experience life to the fullest a person has to live by three simple, yet vital tenets of Taoism: compassion, simplicity and patience.
Modern society puts more emphasis on the material world and self-centeredness, than on the spiritual values and compassion for others. Every day we become more alienated from nature and from one another, estranging ourselves from the Tao, believing that being more independent makes us brave and heroic. Instead of helping our environment, we become more hostile towards nature and people, which takes us away from the Tao, which teaches us that we have to “trust our natural responses” (Mitchell 23). The social scientist Dr. You- Sheng Li writes in his essay “Taoist Philosophy for the 21st Century”, that “wealth-building society is good at economy, science and technology, and it is also good at war. But it is not good at making its people happy. On the contrary, such society puts tremendous pressure on people to work hard for money but at the expense of happiness” (Li). People are social creatures. We need to be accepted by our community and we function best when we work in groups. If the modern form of society, which aims at disconnecting people from one another, was so successful and good for the people living in it, there would not be such high rates of happiness-deficiency related diseases such as cancer, heart attacks, and depression leading to suicide, according to Dr. You- Sheng Li. The Tao teaches that we should not “overvalue possessions” (Mitchell 3) but we do the opposite. We are over satisfied with material things, but we lack social contact. We believe that social media brings us closer together, but it actually forces us apart. People start to believe that this artificial screen-to-screen communication is a good enough substitute for real life contact. Maintaining this illusion leads people to focus more on material and financial success, and less on their success as humans. “Colors blind the eye. Sounds deafen the ear. Flavors numb the taste. Thoughts weaken the mind. Desires wither the heart” (Mitchell 12). All these items which we desire distract us from what is truly important in life. We are so obsessed with the thought of working to acquire material possessions for our own personal satisfaction that we become self-centered and unaware of the surroundings. We are taught that material possessions are a reflection of our success as people, while spiritual virtues are greatly overlooked. This is why the Tao says that “Success is as dangerous as failure” (Mitchell 13). We are blinded by financial success, and completely overlook our success as humans. What makes us heroic and truly successful humans is being able to live a life of “having without possessing” (Mitchell 10), which means having more compassion for those who are in need, and less material possessions to keep us distracted from our true purpose in life.
A brave person is one who is able to find joy in the simple moment, one who is not blinded by colors, deafened by sounds or distracted by the material world. “He allows things to come and go” (Mitchell 12). This is a person who is able to sit back and allow things to happen without his constant interference. Being able to resist the temptation to control the moment is what makes one heroic. As the Tao says, “[d]o your work, then step back” (Mitchell 9) to simply let nature do its work, because this is how life really works; there is no need for constant interference. Dr. You- Sheng Li points out that the “Taoist philosophy often stresses the value of naturalness and simplicity, a simple but joyful life which values human nature as a whole, and not just those parts of human nature which fit in with the highly competitive society” (Li). We have all these machines whose sole purpose is to make our lives easier, but they alienate us from nature and the Tao. Therefore, we constantly find ourselves being busier. We will not find true happiness unless we go back to nature and simplicity.
Taoism does not require great intellect in order to be understood; it requires the ability and courage to see through materialism, and break the chains of modern social norms, which give people the illusion that a successful life means constant struggle and stress. Dr. You- Sheng Li has a simple, yet accurate philosophy about life which states that “life is for us to enjoy, and joy resides in satisfaction with a simple life. Life should turn away from highly oriented goals which are institutionalized into modern society” (Li). We may believe that financial success is the key to long lasting happiness, and this is how we complicate our lives. We rarely stop to think that what will matter by the end of our lives is not how much money we have made and with how many gadgets we have played. The beauty of life is in the simple moment of presence. These moments come and go, but the memory of that experience is what stays with us until the very end. These beautiful moments, in which we become aware of our existence and of the fact that we are alive, are the moments in which we are in the presence of the Tao.
When you are a part of society that teaches its people to become control freaks, it takes a great amount of bravery to be patient enough to sit down and “have faith in the way things are” (Mitchell 13). We have interfered so much in the way life works that we have completely altered our reality and are unable to have trust in anything but ourselves. Having made so many “corrections” to reality, gives us the impression that we are omnipotent, thus making us very impatient. Instead of taking the role of the Master, we should learn to be patient enough to “just stay in the center of the circle and let all things take their course” (Mitchell 19) as the Tao teaches. Nowadays, we have easy access to everything from technology to success, which makes us very impatient. Thanks to the Internet which provides access to all sorts of information, we do not have the patience to search for knowledge on a deeper level. We trust Wikipedia because it saves us hours at the library being buried in dozens of books. We do not have the patience to learn. If we want knowledge, we want it now. While this may sound very appealing at first, the negative part comes in the fact that we lack one very important step towards acquiring true knowledge – the path towards it. The process of learning itself brings you closer to the Tao, and is much more important than the end result, because this is what forms you as a person. Having the patience to go through that process is what makes a person a hero, because that person ends up with much more than new information – he ends up an improved human. Social media on the other hand, alters our approach towards success. Nowadays, a person can become famous overnight because he has posted something at the right time. This person receives instant recognition which, of course, fades away as fast as it came, but it was enough to alter the person’s perception of patience. We think that collecting “likes” on social media make us instantly successful, but success is a much more simple thing. Success lies in the simple understanding that if you “[l]et go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself” (Mitchell 57). Once a person really accepts this philosophy, he will be able to let things work on their own and patiently wait for the result. Only then can a person truly experience life to the fullest and become aware of himself and the Tao.
Redefining heroism in the twenty-first century is as simple as addressing the three tenets of Taoism: compassion, simplicity and patience. A heroic person is one who is able to see beyond what is presented to his eyes, one who is able to hear beyond what is presented to his ears, and one who is able to experience life beyond the tangible. Living a simple life by avoiding blinding ourselves with materialism, experiencing compassion for others, and having the patience to allow things to happen on their own without our constant interference are the three vital steps towards a fulfilling and heroic life.
Mitchell, Stephen, translator. Tao Te Ching. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. Print.
Li, You-Sheng. “Taoist Philosophy for the 21st Century.” Essay. Taoism21ce. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 March 2017.
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