This is an unusual and refreshing book for activists told through the unfolding of the ancient Chinese work, the Tao te Ching, as it applies to the work and effectiveness of modern activism. I have never heard of the author, even though he also lives in Victoria. He is an environmental activist, whereas my focus has always been peace and social justice, I am, at best, a passive supportive environmentalist, so I am not too surprised we have not met. But is this a case of the prophet at home being ignored? I wonder if he gets more attention elsewhere. I´d like to meet him.
Every chapter covers a part of the Tao te Ching with its relevance to an area of activism. Each has a text and a captivating illustration by Mark Holmes. The whole book is a lesson in letting go of ego, of nurturing respect for others and the cause and being aware of one´s responsibilities and limitations and modest about one´s accomplishments.
I like that Legault solves the gender language problem by alternately using she & he.
Here are typical wise excerpts:
The sage activist has, but does not cling to, anything
She takes action but does not predetermine the outcome
When she is finished, she forgets her accomplishments
And so doing, she is remembered for them always
The sage activist leads
By freeing people of expectations
And opening their hearts
By dissolving their personal ambition
And strengthening their passion
He urges us to also let go of fear, particularly in times of organizational stress, like fundraising. “;Fear drives us to make mistakes/And creates a culture of scarcity”. He says that Lao Tzu advocates that we develop an abundance mentality. We need to think of this when we worry that we don’t have enough members of funds to do an action. Faith in what we have and a passion for our cause are most important. We don´t need elaborate structures and material trapping to be a successful group – and Legault gives us examples of Alberta activists who avoided structural growth and stuck to simplicity of resources and stayed focussed on goals.
And those who are leaders must be cautious about their role. The Tao says:
Controlling others is force
Controlling yourself is real power.
We need to learn the process, a process that often means just getting out of the way and passing leadership onto others in a responsible fashion. Stand aside and trust others. I reflected that so often we do not trust others to do the job, we think it is easier to do it ourselves – in reality we distrust and disrespect our co-activists that way.
In the chapter with the great title, Creeping Low like a Snake, Legault writes about ego, pride and conceit as the problems many of us may have to cope with in organizations. These qualities can alienate our allies and the public and lead to elitism and damage our own perceptions and ideas and the organization as well.
Finally we are reminded that activism is a life path and a lifetime, we can´t expect fast results or and end, so we can go back to personal pursuits. Activism never ends so it must be part of a balanced life that takes pleasure in love and creativity in order experience satisfaction in work that will still need to done after our lives have passed.
Legault writes: There is a big difference between seeking fulfillment form our work, something that is healthy and appropriate, and needing to prove ourselves. Control and ego will never disappear but we need to recognize these obstacles for the good of our own health and satisfaction, and for the success of our organizations and goals.
This is a book I recommend to all activists, particularly those suffering burnout, self–doubts and a sense of failure and alienation., to be reminded that we are “here to do the work that is right and just and good.”