The politics of self-interest

Lin Hui of Kia took to flight.
Pursued by enemies,
He threw away the precious jade
Symbol of his rank
And took his infant child on his back.
Why did he take the child
And leave the jade,
Which was worth a small fortune,
Whereas the child, if sold,
Would only bring him a paltry sum?

Lin Hui said:
"My bond with the jade symbol
And with my office
Was the bond of self-interest.
My bond with the child
Was the bond of Tao.

Where self-interest is the bond,
The friendship is dissolved
When calamity comes.
Where Tao is the bond,
Friendship is made perfect
By calamity."

My first thought on reading these words from Merton's Chuang Tzu this morning was to look to a recent incident and say, "See, she was only being nice to get what she needed."  But my second thought was, "Oh, perhaps she was behaving that way because she felt I had chosen self-interest over HER."

Taken together with yesterday's empty boat, these words can help me better understand that the root of most conflict really is self-interest: we often get into trouble because we get invested in a particular outcome, and, like children, we resent anyone who appears to interfere between us and our desires.

And so the text message I found from my daughter this morning -- as part of our ongoing discussions about the Tao -- seems even more relevant:  "To God all things are fair and good and right, but men hold some things wrong and some things right." (Heraclitus frag. 104)

Were I firmly in the Tao, a true person of faith, I would see with the eyes of God, and know all outcomes are good.  But caught in my own web of self-interest, I get cranky when things fail to go my way.

Imagine how different all our political squabbles would be if every time we felt the urge to attack the other side we stopped instead to examine where self-interest lay for us, then looked beyond to imagine a common goal...  This seems to me to be the root of that common phrase about politics making strange bedfellows: Could it be that the root of politics is ALWAYS self-interest?


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