The Election, Lao Tzu, a Cup of Water

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischThe Election, Lao Tzu, a Cup of Water

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Americans have voted for a politics of fear, anger, and hatred, and those of us who oppose this politics are now trying to figure out how we can oppose it usefully. I want to defend my country, my republic. In the atmosphere of fear, anger, and hatred, opposition too easily becomes division, fixed enmity. I’m looking for a place to stand, or a way to go, where the behavior of those I oppose will not control my behavior.

Americans are given to naming enemies and declaring righteous war against them. Indians are the enemy, socialism is the enemy, cancer is the enemy, Jews are the enemy, Muslims are the enemy, sugar is the enemy. We don’t support education, we declare a war on illiteracy. We make war on drugs, war on Viet Nam, war on Iraq, war on obesity, war on terror, war on poverty. We see death, the terms on which we have life, as an enemy that must be defeated at all costs.

Defeat for the enemy, victory for us, aggression as the means to that end: this obsessive metaphor is used even by those who know that aggressive war offers no solution, and has no end but desolation.

The election of 2016 was one of the battles of the American Civil War. The Trump voters knew it, if we didn’t, and they won it. Their victory helps me see where my own thinking has been at fault.

I will try never to use the metaphor of war where it doesn’t belong, because I think it has come to shape our thinking and dominate our minds so that we tend to see the destructive force of aggression as the only way to meet any challenge. I want to find a better way.

~~~

My song for many years was We Shall Overcome. I will always love that song, what it says and the people who have sung it, with whom I marched singing. But I can’t march now, and I can’t sing it any longer.

My song is Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.

Though we’ve had some great scholars of peace, such as Martin Luther King, studying it is something Americans have done very little of.

The way of the warrior admits no positive alternatives to fighting, only negatives — inertia, passivity, surrender. Talk of “waging peace” is mere glibness, you can’t be aggressively peaceful. Reducing positive action to fighting against or fighting for, we have not looked at the possibility of other forms of action.

Like the people who marched to Selma, the people who are standing their ground at Standing Rock study, learn, and teach us the hard lessons of peace. They are not making war. They are resolutely non-violent. They are seeking a way out of the traps of anger, hatred, enmity. They are actively trying to get free, to be free, and by their freedom, free others as well.

Studying peace means in the first place unlearning the vocabulary of war, and that’s very difficult indeed. Isn’t it right to fight against injustice? Isn’t that what Selma and Standing Rock are — brave battles for justice?

I think not. Brave yes; battles no. Refusing to engage an aggressor on his terms, standing ground, holding firm, is not aggression — though the aggressive opponent will always declare that it is. Refusing to meet violence with violence is a powerful, positive act.

But that is paradoxical. It’s hard to see how not doing something can be more positive than doing something. When all the words we have to use are negative — inaction, nonviolence, refusal, resistance, evasion — it’s hard to see and keep in mind that the outcome of these so-called negatives is positive, while the outcome of the apparently positive act of making war is negative.

We confuse self-defense, the reaction to aggression, with aggression itself. Self-defense is a necessary and morally defensible reaction.

But defending a cause without fighting, without attacking, without aggression, is not a reaction at all. It is an action. It is an expression of power. It takes control.

Reaction is controlled by the power it reacts against. The people who at present claim to be conservatives aren’t conservatives at all, they are radical reactionaries. The position of the reactionary is not that of the agent, but that of the victim. The reactionary tends always toward paranoia, seeing himself as the obsessive object of vast malevolent forces and entities, fearing enemies everywhere, in anyone he doesn’t understand and can’t control, in every foreigner, in his own government.

Many contemporary Republicans have permanently assumed the position of victim, which is why their party has no positive agenda, and why they whine so much.

The choice to act, rather than react, breaks the paralysis of fear and the vicious circle of aggression, frees us go forward, onward.

~~~

We have glamorized the way of the warrior for millennia. We have identified it as the supreme test and example of courage, strength, duty, generosity, and manhood. If I turn from the way of the warrior, where am I to seek those qualities? What way have I to go?

Lao Tzu says: the way of water.

The weakest, most yielding thing in the world, as he calls it, water chooses the lowest path, not the high road. It gives way to anything harder than itself, offers no resistance, flows around obstacles, accepts whatever comes to it, lets itself be used and divided and defiled, yet continues to be itself and to go always in the direction it must go. The tides of the oceans obey the moon while the great currents of the open sea keep on their ways beneath. Water deeply at rest is yet always in motion; the stillest lake is constantly, invisibly transformed into vapor, rising in the air. A river can be dammed and diverted, yet its water is incompressible: it will not go where there is not room for it. A river can be so drained for human uses that it never reaches the sea, yet in all those bypaths and usages its water remains itself and pursues its course, flowing down and on, above ground or underground, breathing itself out into the air in evaporation, rising in mist, fog, cloud, returning to earth as rain, refilling the sea. Water doesn’t have only one way. It has infinite ways, it takes whatever way it can, it is utterly opportunistic, and all life on earth depends on this passive, yielding, uncertain, adaptable, changeable element.

The death way or the life way? The high road of the warrior, or the river road?

~~~

I know what I want. I want to live with courage, with compassion, in patience, in peace.

The way of the warrior fully admits only the first of these, and wholly denies the last.

The way of the water admits them all.

The flow of a river is a model for me of courage that can keep me going — carry me through the bad places, the bad times. A courage that is compliant by choice and uses force only when compelled, always seeking the best way, the easiest way, but if not finding any easy way still, always, going on.

The cup of water that gives itself to thirst is a model for me of the compassion that gives itself freely. Water is generous, tolerant, does not hold itself apart, lets itself be used by any need. Water goes, as Lao Tzu says, to the lowest places, vile places, accepts contamination, accepts foulness, and yet comes through again always as itself, pure, cleansed, and cleansing.

Running water and the sea are models for me of patience: their easy, steady obedience to necessity, to the pull of the moon in the sea-tides and the pull of the earth always downward; the immense power of that obedience.

I have no model for peace, only glimpses of it, metaphors for it, similes to what I cannot fully grasp and hold. Among them: a bowl of clear water. A boat drifting on a slow river. A lake among hills. The vast depths of the sea. A drop of water at the tip of a leaf. The sound of rain. The sound of a fountain. The bright dance of the water-spray from a garden hose, the scent of wet earth.

–UKL

A Meditation

The river that runs in the valley
makes the valley that holds it.

This is the doorway:
the valley of the river.

~

What wears away the hard stone,
the high mountain?

The wind. The dust on the wind.
The rain. The rain on the wind.

What wears the hardness of hate away?
Breath, tears.

~

Courage, compassion, patience
holding to their way:
the path to the doorway.

~~~

This essay may be quoted, reprinted, or translated as a whole. Please notify UKL of reprintings.

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About Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is a founding member of Book View Cafe.
Her most recent BVC ebook is MY LIFE SO FAR, BY PARD, translated from the Feline by UKL. Library of America is publishing Hainish Novels and Stories and a number of her other books.

This entry was posted in Community, Poetry, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

73 Responses to The Election, Lao Tzu, a Cup of Water

  1. Aka says:

    After read it I felt at peace for quite a while,which hadn’t happened for long.Thank you so much for giving us this message in such a hard time.To be the water is so hard.But I’ll try.

  2. Aka says:

    And my understanding is that ‘not to do ‘means ‘do the must ‘.So I think the most difficult thing is not ‘not to do ‘, but to define what is the must and what is not,and of course there is no general standard for it. I’m confused about it.Hope I will find the answer on the way.

  3. Hilary S says:

    Thank you again for the right words for today’s challenge. I have been reading your work for many years, and I am returning to some key texts. The Word for the World is Forest is good for the year that has the Standing Rock Camp and Captain Davidson in line for command. And your praise for the way of water is calming my fears. Thanks again.

  4. Will says:

    Thank you–this was exactly the challenge I needed right now. Unexpected and gorgeous. This one’s going to be with me as I keep walking and talking over the coming days.

    I keep thinking about your challenge to dream of and write about alternative economic systems, too. Thank you for this most gentle of reminders.

    But most of all, just thank you.

  5. Beautiful post. It eased my anxiety a bit. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for this. I’m going to print it out and put it on the refrigerator to read again and again. I’ve had a hard knot of despair in my gut since the election, and your words gave me a vision of water slowly wearing a path through it and giving me a path forward. I will try, drop by drop, to be a more positive force for peace and reason.

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  8. Ah, if only we were all living on “peaceful Chiffewar”…
    As a Jew who remembers his family history and the history of his people, I cannot accept the water simile as a universal guiding principle. I also reject the monstrosity into which the Zionist response to our history has devolved (fascists are fascists, whether they are Jewish or not). I have learned (not the least from your books) that true evil, including the evil that each of us carries inside, must be actively resisted; pretending that it will go away on its own never works. Can a human person actively resist evil without being taken over by it? Perhaps I should make this a central question in my seminar on power and inequality next year. I may learn a thing or two from my students. I usually do.

    • Lisa Moore says:

      Well said.

    • rivelle says:

      I think you may have misunderstood the point which both Le Guin and Lao Tzu are making.

      “I know what I want. I want to live with courage, with compassion, in patience, in peace.
      The way of the warrior fully admits only the first of these, and wholly denies the last.
      The way of the water admits them all.”

      This is neither passivity nor blind acceptance of evil.

      It is the attempt to find a better path than fighting. Which is violent, wounding and killing. And anti-life and anti-peace.

      The major, over-riding question is what will the state of affairs be *after* the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And how much more difficult it is to conceive of this being good state of affairs precisely because there was conflict and fighting to start with and which is ongoing.

      The “quality of water” is peace and Life.

      This means that we do not fight. Instead we *overcome* evil. We overcome the evil contained in our “enemies” and in ourselves.

      This search for a better path and better method than “fighting” is a vital one.

      The best common-parlance word that I can think of is “overcome”.

      The more jargonistic word that “overcome” is supposed to express is “sublate” which has become the accepted translation of Hegel’s aufheben.

      What must be kept in sight at all times is the future preservation and betterment of Life.

      • rushmc says:

        Sounds pretty but extremely naive, rivelle. No one operates in a vacuum, and he who doesn’t defend himself from the predations of others can quickly be extinguished (see the literally millions of people unable or unwilling to resist worldwide over the past century alone). An embrace of a generally pacifistic worldview doesn’t have to be a suicidal grip.

        • Will says:

          Gandhi was willing to die to resist non-violently, and he was hardly naive. Indeed, I think that like Lao Tzu, he was saying it is our true nature to do so, though we almost always struggle against it.

          • rushmc says:

            Wasn’t he? Have you read his autobiography? I’d argue that naivete played a big role in his life (and was at times a strength and at other times a weakness).

            • Will says:

              I’ve read quite a lot, actually. Though he may not have been the worldliest person, he certainly was not naive about what he was risking or suggesting when he advocated nonviolence (sometimes to a shocking degree).

              What was often taken for naïveté in him was almost always his willingness to give others another chance despite knowing what it was likely to mean. That was precisely his tactic.

              • rivelle says:

                Ghandi has been romanticised a fair bit in the West.

                It was never a a project of non-violence always and in all circumstances.

            • rivelle says:

              The problem did lie in Gandhi’s “naivete” but elsewhere.

              There isn’t the space to go into the matter here but a short introduction in English to the sorts of criticisms of Gandhi which have become the norm for the “anti-Gandhi” camp – and of the debates around Gandhi’s legacy can be found in:

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Indian_Ideology

            • rivelle says:

              But again, despite what you describe as Gandhi’s “naivete”, he and the forces of Indian Independence were *victorious*.

              • rushmc says:

                And the Chinese in Tiananmen Square (and many others elsewhere) were not. So what?

                I’m beginning to think you are being deliberately obtuse, so I am done here and moving on. Thanks for the discussion.

        • rivelle says:

          It’s not “pacifism”.

          It is supposed to be “enlightened” and “civilised”.

          If both sides had been enlightened and civilised at the beginning, the Isreali-Palestinian conflict – which is the example that Shimon Edelman gave in his original post –
          would have a far better prospect of producing a good post-conflict outcome.

          This was meant to be what is meant by the reference to Hegel.

          • rivelle says:

            (apologies for last sentence in the above post. The cursor on this laptop does odd things at times with cutting and pasting).

            The last sentence was supposed to read:

            “This was I meant by the reference to Hegel”

          • rushmc says:

            But it is precisely the point that “both sides” are not always enlightened and civilized.

            • rivelle says:

              And also that the side which is considered more “powerful” is considered “more powerful” in terms of military strength.

              And not in such qualities as magnanimity.

              But the value in what Le Guin and Lao Tzu have written above is that the “element of Water” is also an element which is innate to all Life.

              Which is to say, that “enlightenment” and “civilization” also have a solid grounding in that which is innate in us all.

              And hence the possibility of Hope.

              [incidentally doesn’t “Le Guin and Lao Tzu” considered as the name of unitary literary entity have a nice sound and resonance?]

              • rushmc says:

                Tolerance for oppressors greatly aids and encourages oppression. That is not so easy to wash away.

                • rivelle says:

                  Yes. Obviously.

                  And again, it is not “tolerance”.

                  Please re-read what I have attempted to describe.

                  Particularly if you are unfamiliar with Hegel, I would please ask that you try to familiarise yourself with the concepts in his philosophy.

        • rivelle says:

          What you call “naive” is better described as a barbaric and savage force of human devolution. Devolution all the way to the inorganic being of rotting corpses.

          This is why Le Guin and Lao Tzu use the example and the imagery of water and of Life.

          The horrific tragedy and catastrophe of human history is that it takes horrendous events to make us come to our senses.

          Take our modern-day ideal of “Peace”.

          1/ It is mostly a legal ideal.

          2/It was achieved only in the aftermath of violent and mass-murderous warfare.

          It took the Thirty Years War and the Eighty Years War to give us the Peace of Westphalia.

          It took WWI and WWII to give us the United Nations.
          And we still only have a formal Legal codification of the conduct of warfare. And of Peace.

          • rivelle says:

            (apologies for correction)

            First sentence of above should have read “THE ANTI-THESIS of (w)hat you call “naive” is better described as a barbaric and savage force of human devolution. Devolution all the way to the inorganic being of rotting corpses.”

  9. Dave Ring says:

    One model of how to be a not-warrior is aikido, a martial art founded by Morihei Ueshiba. Students of aikido learn to see attacks as poorly directed flows of energy that can be re-directed to protect everyone — defender, bystanders, and attacker — from harm. This is accomplished by viewing the attacker as a partner rather than an enemy and by merging with the vector of the attack and diverting it into a safe path. Aikido principles can be applied on the psychological and political levels as well as the physical.

    Not easy to learn or do, but it has been a worthwhile path for me.

  10. Andrea says:

    I’ve been thinking about these exact things for a while now, but too many thoughts are flashing through my mind at the moment to write a proper and coherent response, so I won’t try.
    Just this: thank you for this beautiful article (I love the water metaphor; it’s perfect) and for your many other writings, most of all your novels, which have inspired and encouraged me beyond what I could have imagined. I hope I can pay this debt forward one day.

  11. Pernilla L says:

    It’s people like you and this kind of thinking that gives me hope. <3 <3 <3

  12. Sara Stamey says:

    Thank you for a needed moment of reflection and sanity. Yes, I have noticed for a long time the strange and inappropriate use of “war against” things like cancer, and the American propensity to turn everything into a battle or choosing “teams” to oppose each other. I hope to find such flowing strength displayed by water.

  13. Cynthia Bliss says:

    I am grateful for your wise and beautiful words. I too am weary of war in all its guises. May we all find the strength and powerful, life giving force of pure and flowing water. The world is so thirsty.

  14. Robin Turner says:

    I am reminded of this …

    “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
    Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
    ? Bruce Lee

  15. Shauna says:

    I have been very troubled by recent events and deciding what to do. I looked on your blog a week ago to see what you had to say and saw that you’d been ill. I hope you’re feeling better, and I thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. The urge to fight, to see things in terms of a battle, is tempting. I like the water metaphor you use – strength in seeming weakness, adaptability, endurance. And it shows so many choices in how to go/flow in a different way, if one can wrap one’s mind around it, a new window to look through and see other paths. Thanks again! I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie, btw.

  16. dominique courtois says:

    The last post on http://dominic77.free.fr/ shows a drop of water which wonders where to go.

  17. Sedeer says:

    Thank you for this. It reminded me of the first chapter of Emmi Itäranta’s “The Memory of Water”. It’s more beautiful in the original Finnish, but here’s the English translation:

    “Water walks with the moon and embraces the earth, and it isn’t afraid to die in fire or live in air. When you step into it, it will be as close as your own skin, but if you hit it too hard, it will shatter you. Once, when there were still winters in the world, cold winters, white winters, winters you could wrap yourself in and slip on and come in to warm from, you could have walked on the crystallized water that was called ice. I have seen ice, but only small, man-made lumps. All my life I have dreamed of how it would be to walk on frozen sea.

    Death is water’s close companion. The two cannot be separated, and neither can be separated from us, for they are what we are ultimately made of: the versatility of water, and the closeness of death. Water has no beginning and no end, but death has both. Death is both. Sometimes death travels hidden in water, and sometimes water will chase death away, but they go together always, in the world and in us.”

  18. rushmc says:

    You know who likes those who swear off aggression? Aggressors. Makes what they’re trying to do SO much easier. And if you think the passivity of water offers a real, long-term protection, just look at the dismal state of the rivers and lakes, the very oceans, of this world. It’s a nice thought prettily stated, but a vow not to stand up against others who are determined to do wrong only accelerates–and in some way even vindicates–the damage.

    • Responding to aggression with aggression just ups the conflict. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respond to attacks effectively, only that aggression alone is rarely a useful way to do it. There are ways to deal directly with aggression that don’t make the situation worse. Like Dave Ring above, I advocate using Aikido approaches. I’ve trained in martial arts, mostly Aikido, for 37 years, and find that there are many ways to take charge of a situation that do not encourage or allow the aggressor to keep coming.

  19. Michael Aschenbach says:

    Thank you, Usula. I appreciate your writings and your thoughts at this complex time. I have also long appreciated old master Lao. This world is a school for the soul. Here we encounter the elemental forces always battling with each other: fire, water, earth, air, and etheric sky. None of these are human. Only the light-life is what we really are and only the light-life can bring us peace. But, of course, this is a process. Each of us is somewhere in the process of learning, some pulling forward, some pulling back. We may be either at any given moment—but the transformative process moves by a deep and inexorable guidance that pulls the human spirit toward its essence. Even in times of cruelty and reactionary resistance, the Great Transformation of humanity moves forward. Sometimes, it moves even more deeply in such times than in times of ease. One great act of peace we can do is to hold firmly to the vision of the human flowering. Just holding the vision that all humans can one day live together in peace and prosperity is a profound act of positive energy that resists fear, anger, hatred, and all negative forces. Each day, we can try to make that vision real in the spaces we traverse. This is good work for human beings.
    Wishing you well,
    Michael

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  21. Mary G. says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to all. I appreciate your writings, perspective, and teachings. Peace and restored health!

  22. I remember the Earthsea trilogy from my childhood as it helped form my love of reading, particularly fantasy and science fiction. I am not at all surprised to read this blog and be touched by the words within. Thank you again for writing something that speaks directly to me.

    My dad (Bill Leicht) has long advocated and taught and facilitated the use of Aikido as a means to non-violence and conflict resolution. Using his peace dojo with AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project, which began in our prisons system via Quakers) training in addition to Aikido techniques, my Dad has long worked with kids and adults from around the world to bring peace to society.

    I want to say he has struggled with those in power positions to get funding and volunteers for his non-profit efforts but that’s again the war metaphor in a different guise. Language is so bounded by cultural concepts, it is difficult to find the precise meaning I want without invoking the culture of battle.

    I will try again with this: I am certain he would say it has been an experience working with these various people to bring the hope of a different way of thinking, being and teaching. He is still doing his work at 80+ and still is looking forward ahead. Am certain he would agree with your water metaphor. His step daughter (my step sister) showed me this link and I will be passing it on to him.

    I am not quite there yet, on a personal level. I still fight and scream and agonize over conflicts and have yet to find the way to peace (perhaps because Muste was right that there is no way to peace because it is the way.) I am a gamer and a rock musician and a songwriter and pretty juvenile in some basic ways for my 51 years. Some say I am quite negative in my approach to adversity. I try not to be, I try to be “like water” as Master Lee advocated. Is not easy when my inclination is to be more like fire.

    My feelings about the MRA, Alt-Right (Neo Nazis in new form), Trump and his Trumpettes, Standing Rock, the Emerging Police State, and the Perpetual War Machine that is our main industry, The Corporate States of America and various other ills are quite impassioned and fraught with anxiety. Though I have tried to apply the sense of calm that I want there to be.

    I fear that my calmness may become complacence. I do not wish to be a contributor by non-action to that which would horrify me. I also do not have the means to do much more than what I do, and I know I must accept that forces of the world are greater than myself by many magnitudes and that I can only do my small part to be peaceful and spread that as I can despite my tempestuous and undeveloped inner child.

    I gain hope from the words above (and from the many positive comments below the blog too!) And I am grateful for this, so once again, thank you.

  23. L Kaye says:

    I will study this a few times more and meditate on it. As with your fiction work, it offers something unexpected, and precious. I have thought and refused to think for a few weeks, and at no point did I think anything near this. Thank you for this. I will study it and share it.

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  26. Charles Freedom Long says:

    Thank you for a beautiful post. As Gandhi said, “You must become the change you want to see in the world.”

  27. Sally Zanger says:

    Thank you.

  28. Eva says:

    Your comments help wash away some of my anger, leaving room for peace.

  29. ytani says:

    I have found sustenance for years in your writing and now, in these dark days, I am heartened by the responses I find here. I have a feeling that this is part of what you mean by the way of water. Like-minded people are like drops of water, that sometimes come together to become a trickle, a river, a wave, a tsunami—that sometimes disappear from sight altogether, and yet we still continue to be, each in our own place, in our own way. Water can be very violent (like the tsunami), but it is never malicious and never targets an enemy. It just goes where it must go. I am hoping very hard that we can turn the tide, by being subversive without being vicious. By being like like your writing. Thank you Ursula K. Le Guin, for being there and writing for us!

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  31. Stewart Dean says:

    I have never confused courage with steroidal testosterone. When I was one, my mother was felled by polio, and I didn’t see her again for more than a year….and then almost completely paralyzed and endowed with that insult of paralysis, a colostomy. Yet she was the fierce spirited heart of our family. She has always been my exemplar of courage, shining so much the brighter from her physical weakness.
    http://www.sdean.net/myfamily.htm#GoneBefore

  32. Carolyn Ogburn says:

    Thank you for writing this, which helps me sort through my own thoughts. Yes, this: “I know what I want. I want to live with courage, with compassion, in patience, in peace.” There are times when I despair of knowing what I want, and yet when I find these words written, I know that they’re true for me as well. This is what writing can do, can’t help but do — impersonal as water — it can carry one person’s truth to set free another.

  33. Avril Silk says:

    “I know what I want. I want to live with courage, with compassion, in patience, in peace.” It’s not a lot to ask but even when our own lives attain a semblance of that vision, we live shadowed, knowing that others are living with terror and darkness. How do we answer the terrifying realities of evil, hatred, cynicism and apathy without ourselves becoming damaged? Or do we need to accept that opposing evil, however peacefully, ensures damage? I have been attending Quaker meetings now for over thirty years and still I struggle to see the Light. We need water – and its power is formidable, but we also need fire, air and earth – and the wisdom to know which should prevail at any given time.

    • rushmc says:

      >>We need water – and its power is formidable, but we also need fire, air and earth – and the wisdom to know which should prevail at any given time.

      Hear, hear. Any simplistic answer, however lovely, to a complex problem is doomed to fail. We need to engage in useful ways, because retreat will not result in a desired outcome.

      • Avril Silk says:

        Complexity means I might respond one way to a personal attack but entirely differently to protect my child. When do I placate, and when do I confront? And how, in the blink of time that is our life, do we know the impact of any of our actions? Furthermore, we rarely define our terms, preferring to assume that all people of sense share an understanding of slippery words like ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Our shock on realising that millions of people not only think differently from us, but believe us to be wrong and dangerous, (as wrong and dangerous as we believe them to be) is devastating, undermining anything we might have that approaches certainty. As we reel in shock at the events in the world, for a while, we can do little more than take comfort; we can light a candle; we can be a pattern. As we regain equilibrium, we can find our voice; we can find each other and those who celebrate life, love and light without being naive. Writers like Terry Pratchett:

        “Was that what it was really like to be alive? The feeling of darkness dragging you forward?
        How could they live with it? And yet they did, and even seemed to find enjoyment in it, when surely the only sensible course would be to despair. Amazing. To feel you were a tiny living thing, sandwiched between two cliffs of darkness. How could they stand to be alive?”
        ? Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

        • rushmc says:

          I agree. But what we can’t do (i.e., shouldn’t do) is equivocate and declare that the existence of differing values implies that we should support them all equally. Bullies, those who use violence to achieve their ends, the dishonest, those who consider no other perspectives or needs but their own–some attitudes and behaviors are clearly “less good” by any reasonable measure, and society will always suffer where, in trying to be fair-minded and even-handed, we forget to condemn them, to oppose them, and to vigorously promote our own opposing values. I think there is a tendency among some to feel that “the right thing” (define that as you like) will necessarily win out in the end, simply BECAUSE it is right, with no effort on our part. History and the most basic familiarity with human nature says otherwise. In a competition of ideas, if one side cedes the field to the other, they are rarely happy with the realignment that follows. The victors not only write the history, they determine the point of view from which it will be written.

          • Avril Silk says:

            Thank you. One thing I am sure of; whatever we do or don’t do, we must not give way to despair. Erikson’s work on despair v. integrity is of great importance, especially to those of us no longer young.
            A much-loved quote:
            “This is. And thou art. There is no safety. There is no end. The word must be heard in silence. There must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.”
            ? Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

  34. Rob Gerrand says:

    Dear Ursula

    Thank you for your very sane thoughts.

    I have been thinking about how humans, having evolved about a quarter of a million years ago on the African savannah, travelled out of Africa about 100,000 years ago, and made their way to Australia about 60,000 years ago, maybe before they reached the Neanderthals of then very cold Europe. And how we humans didn’t start creating cities, and what we call civilisation, until less than 8,000 years ago.

    So what has this to do with Trump? Only that we naturally see things in close up, and perhaps lose perspective. Trump is just a blip in humanity’s evolution. Your analysis is the sensible way to deal with him and the forces he has briefly harnessed.

    But the future is long.

    Thank you again for your time in Australia 41 years ago, which was so influential in my life.

  35. Michael Andersen says:

    Beauty, wisdom, power.

  36. Dear Ursula, thank you for your wise words, turning us towards our own humanity. Love always, Shelley shelley

  37. Noelle says:

    Gandhi.

  38. Ashley Burns says:

    Thank you so much for this. It’s one of the first glimpses of serenity I’ve seen since the election.

  39. Meredith Tax says:

    Ursula, be well, I think of you often and read you when I need to go to a place where the answer to the big question is women who are dragons. The Kurdish women fighting ISIS distinguish between self-defense and aggression as you do. They see a continuum between ideological self-defense and armed self-defense and say they are fighting so no more women shall be enslaved. That sounds right to me.

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  41. Cristina Juarez says:

    Thank you, Ms Ursula. Beautiful thoughts. The way of water. How amazingly simple: it dissolves, supports, transports, cleans, allows. At the centre of life. Flowing, changing, eroding, moing. Love it. Xx

  42. Tricia Knoll says:

    Ain’t going to study war no more. Let the water move.

  43. Thank you for this lovely post.

    As a young man, my father became a fan of Alan Watts and read a great deal about Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Though I didn’t read any of the books he’d collected on those subjects until I was in college, I’m grateful that those philosophies helped to shape the environment I grew up in, and while I certainly don’t always find it easy to apply them to my way of thinking, they’ve influenced both my tastes in reading and the ideas I choose to explore as a writer.

    It is disconcerting how most of us are completely oblivious to the abundance of terms and metaphors related to fighting that permeate our language, and unaware of all the ways they unconsciously affect our behavior and perceptions. Just recently I had an experience that highlighted how this comes into play in the context of fiction and publishing.

    The emphasis that many editors and literary agents place on wanting ‘strong’ female protagonists is positive and well-intentioned. Unfortunately, the most common interpretation of that means writing about heroines who are bold, aggressive, and physically strong, and very often — especially in science fiction and fantasy — actively engaged in fighting. And that means that some see women characters who don’t do those things as weak and uninteresting.

    But of course in reality, many of the strongest women are those whose true strengths could be described as ‘womanly’ rather than ‘manly’: empathy, compassion, patience, intuition — the skills that are needed for practicing diplomacy. And we really need female characters in fiction with those skills, to show that the ability to provide emotional, rather than physical, support and to remain calm, fair, and compassionate in the midst of conflict often requires a far greater strength.

  44. Keri says:

    You have been a great creative inspiration to me since I was around 11 years old and read the Beginning Place. I wanted to begin with this, to personally thank you for showing me how to write stories where the character moved the plot rather than the plot moving the character.

    I look at you essay and reflect that this was exactly how Hillary Clinton ran for President from the primaries onward, and still afterward how she’s chosen to move. Its amazing how she is portrayed as a hawkish warmonger when I’ve watched her evolve since she became first lady and the reality is for a politician of any party she’s been far more about raising everyone up, helping all disadvantaged, unity by listening and understanding. She made that the absolute focus of her campaign.

    And you know what? She had more people vote for her than anyone else- her numbers are going to even outdo Obama’s.

    And that with so many forces literally armed against her.

    So yes, we are stronger together and no matter what happens with the electoral college ultimately love did trump hate. Lets remember this as we face the dark times ahead.

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  47. Amanda says:

    When reading this essay, I thought about Animal Rescue Organizations as a team that take positive action without aggression and usually without attacking. I’m thinking of local dog and cat rescue groups that tirelessly take strays off the street. They care for their basic needs even when that includes expensive medical treatments. They host adoption events, create social media pages for adoptable animals, screen potential adopters, attempt to educate the masses on the importance of spaying/neutering, as well as how to care for the animal. They provide resources for owners who encounter challenges in caring for the animal. And of course there’s all the fund-raising that must be done. And they often do this for an animal that may have a tough time getting adopted due to color, breed, age, or medical needs. The animals being helped can never repay their efforts. Not financially, obviously and even emotionally much of the gratitude an animal rescue volunteer feels is going to be the knowledge that the helpless cat or dog is better off because of their efforts.
    Of course no individual or organization is perfect but in reflecting on Le Guin’s essay, I think of Animal Rescue groups as an example of relentlessly positive action that is not aggressive or thinks in terms of “battles” or “war”.

    • rivelle says:

      And kindness and care for animals is also encouraging from a historical perspective.
      Which shows that altruism and enlightenment can occur and become universal over history.

  48. Thank you. Just thank you.

    Blessings be upon you and upon your household (most especially Pard.)

    Love,
    Leigh