Influencing Groups

leader of groups lao tzu

Using the Tao to Influence Group Dynamics

The factors discussed in this section contribute to the harmonious achievement of goals at all levels, from the family, community, to organisation, state, nation all the way up to the global the community of humanity.

Avoid Self-Aggrandisement

Enlightened people avoid being too visible or boastful of their achievements because there is a levelling mechanism in group psychology that naturally seeks to balance aggrandisement. Such behaviour creates excess. It creates instability in the social dynamic. Excess indicates that something has reached its peak and must by necessity go into decline. The enlightened person discretely removes their self from the situation before the limelight shines upon them. For example, even the most popular political leader is harshly criticised by some sections of the public, regardless of how diligently they work to stay in favour.

Hypocrisy is particularly poisonous. The enlightened person carefully avoids not only being a hypocrite, but the appearance of being one. They know it is tempting to agree with people in private discussions, expressing a different opinion with each person, as a way of earning their support. The enlightened person knows that they must maintain the integrity of their position, and not vary it when talking to different people. This sameness of bearing generates trust. Even though this may not please everyone, it does earn the enlightened person a reputation for integrity and impartiality. Often, the person of integrity pleases no-one, and is criticised for it because they refuse to take sides in a dispute. But it is the only viable way to behave, since any benefit gained through double-dealing are short-lived. The friend of today becomes an enemy tomorrow. The person of integrity earns the respect of all, if not their friendship.

Avoid Cunning and Manipulation

Clever schemes and coercive force will often produce the opposite of what was planned, earning the person a reputation for cunning and duplicity. The enlightened person knows it is better to act with simple honesty in pursuit of one’s goals, thus generating trust.

Simplicity is achieved through spontaneous, intuitive action based on an understanding of human nature and the situation at hand. This is the opposite of the Machiavellian ploy that may succeed in the short-term, but not in the mid to long-term.

Avoid Aggression

Aggression in all of its forms is avoided by the enlightened person, since aggression creates excess, and excess always produces a counter reaction. Where decisive action is called for, the enlightened person behaves assertively, not crossing the line between aggression and assertion. Assertion is restrained action that respects everyone’s rights, including one’s own.

Aggression in individuals and groups consumes much energy and resources, leading to resource depletion and weakening. Restrained action uses that energy constructively in the pursuit of its goals. The enlightened person knows that success does not have to come at the expense of another. The win-win scenario in which everyone benefits is in keeping with the Tao.

Use Force Only when Absolutely Necessary

When circumstances demand it, the use of force is unavoidable. The enlightened person expresses regret at having to use force. They make it clear that it gives them no pleasure. As in Nature, the incidence of overwhelming force is rare (for example a tornado or earthquake). Most of the time, change is brought about through harmonious transformation.

Cultivating Restraint and Humility

Powerful organisations have much, and this means they have much to lose. Their wealth and influence are the envy of others who want some of it for their self.

Organisations make their self vulnerable to decline through complacency, excess, and sense of entitlement. Hubris leads them to believe they are unassailable. Any advantages the organisation possesses are kept concealed, out of sight from the external world where they will excite no envy or alarm.

Knowing How Much is Enough

Greed is a serious character flaw. It leads a person to not only desire more possessions, but to seek an identity for their self in those possessions rather than focus on internal growth. When organisations are run without acquisitiveness as its central concern, the qualities of the organisation are encouraged to grow in positive, self-improving ways. Its dealings with the world will take on a benevolent aspect which is likely to produce greater prosperity for all and limit the potential for harm.

Avoiding Escalation

In any evolving social environment there will be conflict between opposing ideas. The enlightened person knows that the ideas that eventually prevail are those whose proponents have managed to avoid strong counter-reactions to the idea. They do this by avoiding aggression. Force is met with force, and strategy with strategy. Lao Tzu thought that the side that was wise enough to feel sorrow and regret at the use of force would be the side that triumphs.

Accepting Blame

The enlightened person in organisations takes on the qualities of water. Soft and receptive with no edge and no form, water absorbs and transforms hard structures.

By taking responsibility, including accepting the blame for situations, the enlightened person establishes their position at the centre of the organisation. They extend their influence outwards in a positive way. Blame in this context refers to that which happens inside and outside the organisation. They are able to foresee and avoid similar problems in the future.

Promoting Independence

Lao Tzu considered the ideal social grouping (at every level from family to nation) to be one in which every member can reach their potential in whichever direction that takes them. They have access to health care, education and recreation; everything necessary for the pursuit of happiness. Every person values their life, so they will value life-enhancing activities that they instinctively know is the way to find their self, develop a strong sense of purpose and ultimately reach their full potential. When a person feels strong and independent they are likely to work hard, maintain good relationships and remain loyal to the organisation.


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