Fair Mind, Even Hand

by Christopher Lovejoy on September 30, 2012

Being fair-minded and evenhanded with everyone in every situation sounds boring to those who are typically motivated and energized by the egocentric impulses and imperatives of thymos.

Thymos?

I’m sure that you can think of at least one situation where you took steps to gain recognition and an appreciation of your significance. I admit that it feels good to be recognized, to have my significance appreciated by those who are (or appear to be) in a position to grant recognition and appreciation.

But I also know that external validation of my person, of my worth as a person, is a fickle creature of circumstance – here one day, gone the next; present in this interaction, absent in that one; stable in one situation, volatile in yet another. Holding your ground with internal validation is the better bet.

Thymos (aka thumos) is a Greek term that expresses the notion of spiritedness (e.g., a spirited debate or a spirited stallion). Plato described thymos as that part of the soul that comprises pride, indignation, shame, and the need for recognition. Competitive sport provides many illustrations.

The surging, demanding, commanding energy of thymos sometimes gives every appearance of being able to trump fair-mindedness and evenhandedness – at least in the moment in which it occurs. When cooler minds and hands prevail, thymos often withers in the face of impartial reason and judgment.

Impartiality (aka fair-mindedness or evenhandedness) is an interesting phenomenon in its own right: “a principle of justice holding that decisions should be based on objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, prejudice, or preferring the benefit to one person over another for improper reasons.”

Sounds good in theory, but as most of us know, the world is rife with thymotically-driven bias and prejudice that manifests endlessly as preferential treatment and mindless persecution.

This is the ugly reality of life on earth at this time – a black eye on the pretty face of humanity – and the consolation is small when we realize that it’s been around for all of recorded human history.

What consolation might we find in verse 5 of the Tao Te Ching?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 5

In this verse, a reference is made to “straw dogs”. One translation of verse 5 of the Tao Te Ching reads as follows: Heaven and Earth are heartless, treating creatures like straw dogs.

Straw dogs were used as ritual ceremonial objects in ancient China.

Dressed up and placed on altars, they were venerated, but not because they were loved; afterward, they were thrown into the streets and trampled underfoot, but not because they were hated.

Likewise, the universe in which we live is such that Heaven and Earth are never partial: they neither bring harm or death to living things out of cruelty nor give birth to them out of kindness.

In the face of universal law, and with the laws of creation and manifestation, there’s an underlying neutrality that prevails …

Heaven and earth
are impartial;
they see the 10,000 things
as straw dogs.
The sage is not sentimental;
he treats all his people
as straw dogs.

The sage is like
heaven and earth:
To him none are
especially dear,
nor is there anyone
he disfavors.
He gives and gives,
without condition,
offering his treasures
to everyone.

Between heaven and earth
is a space like a bellows;
empty and inexhaustible,
the more it is used,
the more it produces.

Hold on to the center.
Man was made to sit quietly
and find the truth within.

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

This translation of the verse hints at the desirability of eliminating thymos, but is this wise? Do I really want to be a love dove with no lust for life or an egghead with no sense of outrage?

In teasing out the implications of this lofty verse, let us expose the benefits and hazards of thymos.

My Impressions of the Verse

I would argue that for all of its dark aspects and messy effects, and in spite of its uniformly dark face, thymos is worthy – worthy of consideration, worthy of contemplation, worthy of continuation.

I would even go so far as to say that thymos is the most interesting facet of being human. The verse is admirable as a reflection of sagacity attained, but falls short as a prescription for conduct.

Heaven and earth
are impartial;
they see the 10,000 things
as straw dogs.
The sage is not sentimental;
he treats all his people
as straw dogs.

As far as I can see, there’s nothing questionable or controversial here.

Even in a tight-knit community, where everyone watches out for and helps everyone else, I would submit that separation from the light of love and wisdom would be an inevitable (albeit temporary) consequence of a life loved and lived in this dense manifest realm known as earth.

The sage is like
heaven and earth:
To him none are
especially dear,
nor is there anyone
he disfavors.
He gives and gives,
without condition,
offering his treasures
to everyone.

With the image of a sage as an old man in mind, this portion of the verse is easy to swallow, but … and here, I need to be careful of what I say … is it realistic of me to expect you to emulate it?

This part of the verse implies the attainment of moral transcendence without spiritual bypassing (which would have us subtly or cleverly ignore or dismiss or bypass the less savory aspects of life and living).

Based on my own personal experience, in all honesty, this is not an easy state of being or existence to attain. I say this because thymos invariably serves admirably in testing and trying my patience.

Unless you’re fully immersed in the habit of spirtual bypassing, perhaps you can relate.

The reference to “treasures” is a reference to the intangible qualities and virtues that would sustain unity and harmony in society, with simplicity, patience, and compassion being essential for the sage.

Most fundamentally, the sage is present to everyone, serving as a clear and clean mirror to satisfy perhaps the greatest need of humanity – the need to see and be seen, to know and be known.

But again, for most of us subsisting and existing below the venerated level of sagehood, the attainment of moral transcendence – “I am thou and I am that” – remains an elusive yet worthy ideal.

Between heaven and earth
is a space like a bellows;
empty and inexhaustible,
the more it is used,
the more it produces.

Between heaven and earth is a space like a bellows? On its face, this is a strange simile.

The image of a bellows suggests levels of existence with potential – or dimensions, if you favor the New Age interpretation – inhabited by light beings who assist and uplift light beings on denser levels.

Perhaps this activity serves to animate and substantiate the universe both seen and unseen.

Another way to look at this would have us view the space between heaven and earth as a space for conducting ourselves in the service of others, always at choice about how to make use of it.

The co-existence of the divine and the mundane creates a dynamic that generates a potential for action. The more we draw on this dynamic artfully and skillfully, the more it manifests desired outcomes.

Hold on to the center.
Man was made to sit quietly
and find the truth within.

Certainly, assuming a witness perspective can be useful, especially in the midst of chaos, conflict, or confusion, and sitting quietly is invaluable for seeking and finding personal truth, but …

We would do well to remember that thymos is an animating, activating principle of life. In other words, there’s a time and a place for acting and moving and flowing from a place of fierce determination.

Thymos can get ugly, but it can also serve to expose the fake, the false, and the foul.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

Even if you believe and put your faith in One Source, the universe itself, with its implacable universal laws, is neutral to your hopes and dreams, impartial to your cares and concerns, unless you request otherwise (but even then, the petitions might have to be sincerely repeated and reinforced).

Personally, I find it fascinating how human beings respond to this neutrality and impartiality.

Some find solace in the dark of night, some wrap themselves in a cloak of love and light, while others appeal to higher powers or higher sources of guidance to steer them true and right and fair, even as they recognize and respect the little bit of dark in the light and the little bit of light in the dark.

Whether you view your fate naturally as a river of life or synthetically as a corridor through time, we know instinctively that the choice detours along the way are what give us all a sense of destiny.

If we were all just spirits, what would chocolate taste like? Truly, what would a body-shuddering, mind-blowing, heart-expanding, soul-satisfying, spirit-uplifting orgasm feel like?

Perhaps heaven on earth is what we ultimately seek to live and know and love. Not only do we get to explore, sense, and experience all manner of delights, but we also get to create, to be creative.

Our spirits inhabit biological spacesuits to realize the full extent of our truth, love, and power.

But then, too many of us are not so successful in moving towards this fulfillment. What then? Perhaps this lack of success is only ever apparent, at least from the perspective of the oversoul.

A fair and balanced reciprocity in our relations is a good start, but for those intractable and seemingly impossible situations in life, Jesus Christ, in his Sermon on the Mount, has this to offer …

Ye have heard
that it hath been said,
Thou shalt love thy neighbour,
and hate thine enemy.

But I say unto you,
Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you,
do good to them that hate you,
and pray for them
which despitefully use you,
and persecute you;

That ye may be the children
of your Father which is in heaven:
for he maketh his sun to rise
on the evil and on the good,
and sendeth rain
on the just and on the unjust.

~ Matthew 5:43-45, KJV

Divine intervention is a reality on this planet. I’ve read too many credible accounts to believe otherwise.

From accounts of lucid death, I’m persuaded that the spirit of Christ is alive and well on The Other Side. If it weren’t for these accounts, I doubt that I’d be able to take this scripture seriously.

The second stanza of this scripture is powerful, and requires not only careful thought for a wise interpretation and its prudent application, but the intention to master the lesson of living impartially.

In this one line, Jesus knows well the neutrality and impartiality that we all face: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Ultimately, we’re all in this together, just as verse 5 of the Tao Te Ching implies.

Next up: Living Passively

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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