CHAPTER VII

LAO TZUíS IDEA OF "GOVERNING WITH NON-DOING" AND MODERN MANAGEMENT

SHEN ENMING

 

            As the concept of modernization is based on Western culture, the problems which appear in industrial society are closely related with its attitude towards the world. This attitude is actually an embo-diment of the drive to control all. To avoid these problems, we should introduce as a new cultural element the principle of Lao Tzu, namely the idea of "governing with non-doing".

THE IDEA OF "GOVERNING WITH NON-DOING"

Non-being (Wu) and Non-doing

            "Non-being" is a featured of Lao Tzuís doctrine and "non-doing" is the way by which this is demonstrated. Both express the attitude that we are not adversaries of the world. The reason for this is that the final source of value is Tao (the inner spring of the univer-sal life) and the operation of the world is the incarnation of Tao. Hence, the subjectís value is realized through imitating the operation of the world.

            The division between subject and object is a feature of Wes-tern culture which internally prevents the subject from realizing its inner value, but urges it to develop outwardly instead. This results in a strong desire to pursue efficiency and utility ceaselessly which results finally in the ecological crisis and social problems. Lao Tzuís idea of "non-being" can lessen such desires and enable people to develop with equilibrium and in a reasonable manner. Becoming, as denial of the stationary state, is "non-being". Hence, "being" is not normal, whereas becoming and "non-being" are normal. "Being" is not constant, but is unceasingly in movement. In this sense "non-being" is the denial of "being", a void of definite "being". Here the word "being" is not limited to concrete material forms but includes abstract ideas and theories. Lao Tzu thinks that becoming is self-ex-planatory, in which case we can say that Lao Tzuís concept of "non-being" grasps the essence of the world radically. Therefore, Lao Tzu said in Tao-de-ching: "The world comes from being, and being comes from non-being" (40 chap.). Obviously, these words are not said in an ontological sense, but they express profoundly his insight into the world.

            "Non-being" implies discarding the prejudice which binds the subject under the influence of "being" in an attitude of holding. Here, the word prejudice is not used in the sense of the subject quite divided against the object because the subjective knowledge of the object is fundamentally a subjective object. Even if we confirm a theoretical judgment by facts, the facts themselves are also held subjectively. This means that the subject cannot know the object beyond himself. The prejudice here is that one regards oneís knowledge as most objective. This evokes dogmatic behavior which is the opposite of in-ternally attending to the thing and produces harmful results. The reason for prejudice is failure to recognize that there is no completely objective knowledge in the sense of there being no engagement of the subject, in which case knowledge would be meaningless.

            Only Lao Tzuís concept of "non-being" makes knowledge both effective and definite, which is the superior advantage of his concept in solving the problem. The concept of "non-being" un-ceasingly both discards "being" and produces "being", that is, dif-ferent knowledge of the world. As a limited condition of the subjectís knowledge, our knowledge is just one perspective on the thing. Knowledge reflecting the nature of the thing must be balanced and dynamic so that as we produce "being" we also discard it in aware-ness of its limitation. That is the implication of the concept of "non-being" in epistemology.

Non-doing and What is Natural

            As an idea about the world, "non-being" is identical with its nature. With "non-being" as their guidance, people will not anta-gonize the world but manifest a harmony between man and the world and behave naturally. The world here includes the natural world and society. "Non-being" reflects the attitude of not regarding the na-tural world as an object alienated from us and conquered, but joins with it to direct it. There is here no strong reflection of "being"; rather, with the "non-being" as our guide we can be harmonious with the world, where harmony and order is really the highest effect of controlling and managing. The ecological crisis of the modern world is just the result of too strong a sense of meddling, managing, con-trolling and subjugating the natural world. It reflects an attitude of holding-on to "being", of controlling and managing an object, whose result is to destroy the order. This fact confirms also the wisdom ori-ginating from the concept of "non-being" advanced by Lao Tzu, the Oriental sage of 2000 years ago.

            In society the basic object controlled is people. Compared to material things, they are much more complicated because they po-ssess self-consciousness, which in turn produces different charac-teristics in different situations. If we manage a person by strongly meddling and controlling, he will perceive this no matter what our means control, and will resist in his mind in the face of that danger. From this we find that, with the principle of "non-being" as our guide, we should make decisions without holding on to "being". This means that we should not resist the object; we should not make the object behave according to our will by force, but according to its nature so that it feels that it itself is acting under no external pressure. Lao Tzu said: "When there is success all people feel that they are this way of themselves" (17 chap.), that this is in accord with their nature.

            What is said above is not a peculiar principle or way of mana-gement, but a natural incarnation of "non-being". For this we should "govern with non-doing." The important point here is "non-doing," not "doing". Let us clarify the real difference between "doing" and "non-doing" and the real implication of the latter. "Doing" is a rash action which is done regardless of the situation; the action is resistant to the nature of the thing. By "doing" we could have a temporary success, but one that leads to a later inbalance. The difference bet-ween "doing" and "non-doing" is not whether we attain success by our efforts, but the way of reaching a goal and whether the success generates an intrinsic maladjustment.

            Behavior with "non-being" as a guide does not hold on to a theoretical system, for any theory is a distortion or incomplete expression of life. This is because of the congenital limits of lan-guage in the symbolic expression of human thought. The expression and reception of thought are closely related to the language which is unable to express the "non-being" of the thing. If language takes concepts understood in the spirit of "being" as its guide, the action surely will pose an intrinsic danger. The implication of "non-being" is not to discard theory and thought as our human intellectual achievements, but always to be aware of the limits of such achieve-ments and always to treat them with a critical attitude.

            As "non-doing" does not hold on to "being" but is identical with the nature of object, as Lao Tzu said: "Do nothing and do everything" (48 chap.). Some scholars consider Lao Tzuís concept of "non-doing" to be inactive or passive, and hence as a special behavior. This is a misunderstanding. Lao Tzuís "non-doing" is not a particular behavior or principle, but a higher idea or attitude towards the world. "Non-doing" does not stipulate any special behavior. Sometimes it will be manifested by a quite active attitude and behavior, provided such attitude is not opposite to the nature of the thing. Indeed, in a certain sense "non-doing" is the most active and in a sense superior to that of "doing" because of the subsequent danger. As "doing" is rash action which is not natural, its results will destroy the subject himself in turn. Therefore "doing" has an active appearance, but its nature is inactiveness; whereas "non-doing" has an appearance of inactiveness but an active nature.

            "Non-doing" is also more open and inclusive, for it does not hold onto any "doing" but includes all "doing". This means that its appearance does not have any fixed norm. Its behavior attains its goal by way of the thingís nature. (Of course, in the final analysis, the production of the goal is also the result of "non-being" for it is a derivation of Tao, the inner spring of universal life.) The fundamental basis of behavior is the nature of the thing or Tao. However, Tao is not a fixed norm which could be described. As Lao Tzu said: "Tao can be expressed but is not perpetual; Tao, the name, can be ex-pressed, but it is not a permanent name" (1 chap.).

            According to Lao Tzu, Tao is the fundamental law of the uni-verse and is shown by the operation of the world. So we can consider "non-being" as behavior identical to Tao. Though we are unable to describe it because of the inherent limits of our language, this does not rule out any description. Tao can be expressed and named, but we must not hold on to such descriptions, for to do so would imply that there is no permanent Tao and name; "doing" cannot be behavior identical to Tao. We should be aware, however, that "doing" is not a special behavior; but only behavior with the attitude of holding-on. If we discard this attitude, all behavior is "non-doing" -- just as otherwise all is "doing". The difference between "doing" and "non-doing" is not established on the basis of a judgment of any particular behavior. The two do not differ in meaning in the strict sense: action itself is just "doing"; and from the point of "non-doing", holding-on to distinction also is "doing", as is holding on to "non-doing".

            It is Characteristic of "non-doing" radically to deny any norms for this displays the diversity of the worldly by including all kinds of "doing". This is neither the common sense notion of doing nothing nor another behavior different from "doing". As an activity which is not rash or opposite to the nature of the world, "non-doing" is identical with Tao. As the diversity of the world embodies varied intrinsic tendencies, "non-doing" actually is the "doing" corespondent to the diversity of the world, but without holding on to a certain "doing". Such "doing" is just what we should deny.

            This indicates why Lao Tzu said: "non-doing results in ever-ything being done" (48 chap.). If we behave by way of "non-doing", everything can be done; no goal will be beyond reach for goals too are results of Tao and naturally produce. Hence, Lao Tzu said: "Tao often indicates non-doing, but finally everything is done" (37 chap.). The basic expression of Tao is "non-doing", and its radical charac-teristic "non-being". The idea of "non-being" and the way of "non-doing" is the nature of the world. Combining the idea of "non-being" and the behavior of "non-doing" with controlling and managing con-crete objects is the concept of "governing with non-doing", which reflects "non-doing" and takes "non-being" as guide.

Governing with Non-doing

            This is to disregard not the object (and hence be free to do anything), but the way of "doing" which is opposite to Tao. Such governing forces the object to behave so that it creates a crisis which contradicts the original intent of governing. Governing with "non-doing" asks one to discard any "doing", i.e., any artificial behavior. Only in this way can we acquire good results, as Lao Tzu said: "Do non-doing and everything is governed well" (3 chap.). To eliminate the influence of the "doing", we should discard artificial wisdom and morals, which are not intrinsic to man but alienate one from human nature and in turn impede people from acquiring real wisdom and morals.

            It should be noted here that some scholars think that such ideas of Lao Tzu are counter-cultural. This seems correct at the surface level, but more deeply it is a misunderstanding of Lao Tzuís original meaning. The culture to which Lao Tzu was counter was only that which alienates one from the nature of the world -- Tao, i.e., the culture of abstract ideas alienated from their source. Such a culture not only will hinder people in going back to their original nature, but also will make people hypocritical and fraudulent. As a result not only will it be impossible to manage people, but the internal order and harmony of society will be destroyed. Therefore it cannot in any case simply be summed up as a counter-cultural attitude in the gene-ral sense that Lao Tzu countered such culture as artificial. This attitude only reflects a higher level of culture which attends to the intrinsic moral realm of the subject; this incarnates the operation of Tao, making it conform to human nature. On the other hand, from the point of view of "non-being" dogmatically opposing the form and context of human wisdom and morals this culture is also an attitude of "being" and of holding-on. That is completely opposite to Lao Tzuís thought of "discarding holding-on." As Lao Tzu said: "the existence of the world cannot be described, the more you describe it, the farther you depart from it; the more you hold on to it, the more you will lose it" (29 chap.). "So the gentleman does not do so as not to fail, and does not hold on so as not to be destroyed" (64 chap.). In the above paragraph, by the word "hold-on" is meant any object.

            "Governing with non-doing" means not to hold-on. That implies relieving people from the bonds of artificial wisdom and morals. As for wisdom, what Lao Tzu opposes is the wisdom per-taining to "doing", which is pursued as something extrinsic to people. In contrast, real wisdom is not acquired by pursuit according to our intentions, but is from human nature. Lao Tzu emphasized "going back to nature", "peace" and "recovering vitality" many times in the Tao-te-ching in order to express this meaning. Going back to nature is not for pursuing wisdom, but for obtaining Tao; once Tao is grasped, the highest wisdom is acquired naturally. Tao is not grasped by intent, but by "non-doing". Only "non-doing" corresponds to the nature of the object and combines with the world to become one, thus entailing the disappearance of any awareness of the division bet-ween subject and object. This is the highest wisdom or wisdom in its original sense. As this kind of wisdom is fundamentally the product of "non-doing", its result will not presuppose an intrinsic crisis. In contrast, artificial wisdom causes people to seek private benefits producing fraudulence and contradiction, as Lao Tzu said: "When the name of wisdom is produced, hypocrisy follows" (18 chap.). Hence, "the wise governor in ancient times caused people to be ignorant, but not to be shrewd" (65 chap.). Here the word "ignorant" means the elimination of artificial wisdom in order to go back to nature in order to acquire real wisdom.

            As for morals, what Lao Tzu opposed was morals pertaining to "doing", that is, an artificial morals pursued as extrinsic to people. The pursuit of such morals will lead to hypocracy, as Lao Tzu said: "When Tao is discarded, morals are produced -- when the family is at odds, there is filial piety, when the country is in chaos, people take such artificial morals as a front to hide their shameful behavior so that it is difficult to reach the fundamental goal of management -- by moral norm, as Lao Tzu said: "The gentleman not holding on to morals is the man with real morals" (38 chap.).

            "Governing with non-doing" also implies that we should manage people as if nothing has happened. We should behave according to the nature of the object and not develop the object artificially by force, as Lao Tzu said: "The country is governed by way of no accident happening; if it is governed by accidents then the country is hard to govern" (48 chap.). We should not understand the idea of "no-accident happening" with regard to some particular events. It implies an attitude or spirit, but is not a peculiar way of management. The instructions of Lao Tzu are: "Do non-doing, work as if no-accident happened" (63 chap.), so that we can "manage the big country like family cooking."

IMPLICATIONS OF LAO TZUíS IDEA OF "GOVERNING                  WITH NON-DOING" FOR CHINAíS PROCESS OF

            MODERNIZATION

            Compared with Western ideas regarding management, Lao Tzuís idea of "governing with non-doing", reflecting oriental Taoist culture, is a peculiar mode of thinking. Its holistic mode of thinking differs greatly from Western thinking that emphasizes analysis. Hence, people trained in precise Western analysis find it difficult to understand and consider it quite vague. This reflects the different ideas of value and the different visions of the two cultures in confronting the world.

            The reception of the great achievements of modern Western civilization is an important aspect of Chinese modernization, and this includes modern management. The Western concept of manage-ment can be traced back a very long way and has undergone a long process of development. However, no matter how this thought be developed, it is first the product of the Western culture whose funda-mental characteristic is a culture of intellect. Its management theory is marked by this sign.

            One basic characteristic of an intellectual culture is a serious division between subject and object. As the subject is knowing and thinking, surely it will develop outward to conquer the object. In that case, all actions will be marked with the sign of outward conquest. The management theory originating within this culture obviously will be characterized by a strong sense of controlling and conquering the object. Western thought on management began by taking people as machines and now gives full consideration to human nature. But this does not contradict its characteristic of conquering and of extending intellectual culture, for these are problems at different levels. The nature of the culture on which the manner of concrete management is conceived does not change. The transformation and development of the latter are only the gradual incarnations of the former with which all along they have been closely related. The knowing and thinking subject certainly will improve his tools, the theory and practice of management, in order to know and conquer objects with a view to greater utility. The result is the historical development of a tool. The development of Western management thought reflects mainly the outward-oriented characteristic of conquering and the development of intellectual culture.

            The main defect of such a culture and its goal of knowing and conquering objects is lack of a conscious spirit of self-introspection on the part of the subject. This spirit focuses completely on the value of the subject as the source of subjective activity, so that realizing the subjectís values becomes a realistic activity. Its fundamental goal is to raise the moral level of the subject. If the outward orientation of the intellectual culture develops further, the activity of the subject will lose its inner support and concern for the value of the subject will be lost. This reflects the mental state of a lack of peace, which mental state can be called an ecological crisis of mind. The ecolo-gical crisis of the world and its social defects are the unavoidable result of such a mental crisis. No doubt Western culture has created a very high level of civilization and the Third World countries are too far behind to catch up. However, if the third world countries take such modernization as their goal and develop in the same way, the problems they will face may be far more serious than those of the developed countries. Even if the level of the developed countries were to be reached after hard effort, would the effort be really worthwhile inasmuch as the value of the subject is not fully realized by such an effort. On the contrary, the result of the effort will se-riously restrict the realization of the subjectís value. The restraint that people feel in industrial society is just one example.

            Hence, we should explore a spirit that can overcome the defects of Western culture by the traditional culture of China, while receiving healthy and vigorous nourishment from Western civiliza-tion in order to construct a culture that is appropriate to the new historical phase. In Chinese traditional culture, the Taoist culture with Lao Tzu as its originator may be able to overcome the defects of Western culture.

            Although Lao Tzuís thought has not become the mainstream Chinese traditional culture, it has influenced greatly, and will con-tinue to influence still more, the Chinese national culture and chara-cter. The feature of Taoist culture is the transcendence of morals and knowledge so that it is neither the Western culture moving from knowledge to morals, nor the Confucian culture of morals producing knowledge. It is the culture of "no knowledge, no morals" that can reach the highest level of freedom for the subject. To Lao Tzu, who takes the return to nature as his final goal, knowledge and morals are a bondage of the subject with respect to freedom; as artificial will they impede people from going back to their nature?

            In the process of Chinaís advance towards modernization, it is assimilating modern Western management science, but we should be cautious in this. Obviously, one cannot, consider the extent of material development as the only standard in comparing cultures. It is certain that Western material civilization has reached a very high level, but it has real defects. The main one is the serious separation between subject and object so that it is hard to raise the subject to a transcendental level. Meanwhile, this defect is incarnate in various social and ecological problems. On the other hand, when we intro-duce Western management thought into China with its different cultural background, there may be great negative effects for cultural suitability. Another problem with the use of special techniques and programs of the Western management is making them fit China.

            To avoid these problems we should work on the basis of Chinese traditional culture to develop and construct a management theory appropriate to Chinaís progress towards modernization, so that we can both avoid the defects of Western intellectual culture and open up an approach to modern management that is appropriate for China. That will also be of great significance to the Third World countries now progressing toward modernization and will change the basic concept of modernization, which now connotes mainly Wes-tern intellectual culture. In this way the traditional cultures of dif-ferent nationalities can be introduced into the concept of moderni-zation so that most Third World countries can free themselves from a blind introduction of Western culture in the process of moderni-zation. This is of great historical significance for constructing a worldwide culture.

            If Lao Tzuís thought of "non-being as basis" and the manage-ment idea of "governing with non-doing" are applied to different fields of management, we may avoid the mental state of a rest-lessness and the situation of endlessly plundering the world inherent in the Western world with its intense focus upon competition and success. The serious ecological damage and the mind-body diseases resulting from such a mental state are obvious. For that reason, to avoid repeating the Western approach and to overcome the defects inherent in Western intellectual culture (which would be more terrible in China and the Third World countries), Lao Tzuís thought and ideas of "non-being as basis" and "governing with non-doing" may be an effective remedy. This is not to imply that Lao Tzuís ideas are surely superior to those of the Western culture as a whole, but that at the level of the prerequisites of the modern world civilization, the essence of Taoist culture promises to be of historic worldwide significance.