The Wise are aware of the Whole

The Wise are aware of the Whole

while interacting with the parts

this is how they can help without harming.

I found this today in my Timothy Freke edition of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching; the end of verse 28. I was struck by how it evokes the idea of systems thinking. In a way, nothing we do is an isolated action, but every act is an intervention in a larger, containing system. The meaning of our actions aren’t the effects we intend, neither are they the effects we observe; they are the totality of the change we have made to the system. Like the famous butterfly’s wing, every action, no matter how small changes the course of the whole system over time. The consequence of an action becomes larger over time, and harder to track; it doesn’t decay like a musical note, it resides in the mind like a melody.

Here is Freke’s treatment of verse 29:

If you try to rule the world, you’ll ruin it.

The world is sacred.

It’s not private property in need of refurbishment!

If you try to shape it to fit your ideas,

you will destroy it.

If you try to understand it,

once and for all,

it will seem incomprehensible.