The Low Position

Reflections on Chapter 61 of the Tao Te Ching:

River Delta


A great nation is like a river delta,
the meeting point of the world –
the world’s mother.

The mother overcomes through peace.

In order to gain peace,
she takes the low ground.

Similarly, the great nation
takes the low position with smaller nations
and wins them over.

The smaller nation takes the low position
and wins over the great nation.

nations can take the low position and win.

The great nation wants to unite the people.
The smaller nation want to serve the people.

Both win.

It is fitting that great things
should take the low ground.

The mother often takes the low position.

Ever notice that? Women do this naturally. If you look around at your relationships, the ones that work, you are holding this principle. You want the other person to win. You want to win, but you want the other person to win and sometimes wanting them to win takes over wanting yourself to win. I am not talking about a submissive position here. There is a difference between a low position and a submissive position. A person in the low position can be very powerful, whereas a submissive person is giving up their power. Big difference.

In the U.S., our culture is very much about winning.

It is a common practice to be taught that you must win, always. It is taught in our schools and on our playing fields. In sports, winning is everything. People gather in front of huge televisions with their friends to watch their favorite team squash the competition and we love it. When they lose, people throw stuff and get upset.

This competitive necessity isn’t just for sports. In our business environment, salespeople are “hunting down prospects” and “generating suspects”. What kind of relationship does that make with our clients? Did you really “make a killing” when you won that sale, bought that blouse on special or beat our your favorite team in a football game?

We could stand for a shift in thinking here.

I can see that this is happening. There is a movement of people changing their lives because they want to give more of what they are passionate about. People like Danielle LaPorte, Michele BerghChris Guillebeau, Chris Brogan, Leo Babauta, Tynan, Julien Smith, Pamela Slim, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus and many more are out there promoting a lifestyle of giving back and really searching for what matters.

A true leader helps their followers to evolve.

A true leader doesn’t really want followers. A true leaders wants partners. She wants people to join her on a path of excellence so that everyone can make the world a better place together. You just don’t get that from stepping on someone to get to the top. You get there by lending a hand downwards to someone who needs it. That is the low position we are talking about here.

Is this Utopia?

Perhaps. I have read so much about this world being our own creation. We create our own reality, right? Why not Utopia? Why not have us all get along and help each other? This is a natural pattern of how we want to be. It works! We’ve seen it, in bits and pieces. If you haven’t read, The Kin of Ata, go get yourself a copy. It is a great book about a man who lived for himself. Then he somehow stumbled upon a world where just they didn’t live like that. The way the people of this other place accepted him, just as he was, and brought him in and helped him to see a better way to live is very beautiful.

Why are we so fearful?

Why are our planet’s military personnel so focused on fighting? Is this really necessary? How about a shift in focus on how we can help each other? Let’s change our focus from fear based to love based. This is not a weak position. Love is incredibly powerful. It is not weak. If you are kind to a friend and you support them, you are stronger because when you need help they are there for you as well. This is the natural way.

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  1. This is so fabulous, Amy. I love your posts. This really opens up things. I try to take the low position. I tell others that I believe them to be the best they can be. I want them to succeed! It’s an amazing thing for us all to be winners. I think we can. 😀
    Arwen recently posted…Friends, Family & LoveMy Profile

    • Thanks, Stephanie. I do too! Sometimes I get caught up with being right, but it is important to just remember those times as my lessons. lol… I am so glad you reconnected. I love your blog and forget to come and visit sometimes!

  2. Thanks, Amy. I’m curious how you think a nation (such as America) would “take the low position,” in practical terms. The idea that came to mind for me was how we are the nation that (mas o menos) accepts immigrants from every other nation. We’re not perfect, obviously, but I don’t think any other country is MORE inviting to immigrants. (Try getting Chinese citizenship, for example.)

    This is an accepting stance, certainly compared to the nationalist pride of nations that don’t want foreigners to join their society. And obviously it has enriched the U.S. considerably.

    Mark (Taoish)

    • That is certainly one way, Mark. As I was writing the post, I was actually thinking that we did not take the low position much (as a country). Then, as I thought about it, I realized that we do in many ways. We are certainly not perfect. I am sure that many countries are struggling to integrate new cultural understanding in how they run their governments. If you look at diversity training, it is way more prevalent now than it ever has been in the past. We are trying.

      I cannot criticize other countries because I don’t know their experience. I know that many countries have struggled with cultural differences and this has caused them a lot of pain and struggle. China certainly has had its challenges with population growth, so I can certainly understand that if they are struggling with too many babies that a bunch of foreigners are not a great idea for them. lol… I think in their shoes, I might be hesitant as well! Like a small house that is full to the brim cannot take on more guests!

      There are many ways for a country to take the low position. You can’t just say that you are going to take the low position. It has to be a part of how you live it every day. It is a very subtle shift in how you be in the world. Are you about helping others or helping yourself? I think in many ways, if you look at the U.S. as a nation, we are often about helping ourselves. But you can also look at how we have tried (at least) to help other countries become more democratic. We are a bit warped on this, as I think that many times democracy is the banner we fly when there are alterior motives actually in play, so in some ways that doesn’t count. But our people are good. I look at my friends and neighbors and I see mostly loving kind people that would help a person who needed it. This is the core of our nation, these neighbors and friends that are all around us.

      I guess this is a bit of a long-winded answer, but to answer your last statement – I totally agree with you. Our diversity has made our country a very interesting place to live. I love that there are people here of all walks of life and that we accept each other and try and live with our differences as best we can. This, to me, is what makes me proud to say that I am an American.

    • By the way, Mark. I clicked over on your link. What a great site! Looks like you have a community of writers. Would love to talk with you offline about your site.

  3. This is beautiful. I think it takes incredible strength of character to show love in the face of loss and tragedy. I think it shows a grounding that is rare, to be able to hurt, and not lash out in response – to show love and empathy even to the person responsible for the crisis.
    Liesl Garner recently posted…Robert Parker, dad of Sandy Hook Victim, Emily Parker, on CompassionMy Profile

    • Yes, Liesl. I think we are tested during our toughest hours. What are you going to do when you are at your worst? Yesterday, I yelled at my daughter. Immediately, I felt like crap. I knew that I could justify it in my mind, or I could just accept that I still have some work to do in that area. In that moment, I failed the test. So there will be another one. Over the long haul, I yell a lot less than I used to so I guess that I am learning, but I sure wish that I was just a little more perfect. I also really admire people who can take in on the chin and come out loving. If we just keep practicing and learning from our failures, we will get better every day.

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  5. Fantastic post Amy. I think we never win when someone else loses. We have such a competitive culture even more so, these days. Win, win seems to have been forgotten.
    Yes and a true leader is also trying to help others be leaders, not followers. In Process Oriented Psychology, we always say that the leader is the person with the most awareness in the moment and that being a leader is not a fixed role. All of us can be leaders at different times.
    A paradigm shift is needed on our planet so that we can work together and become more compassionate towards each other and therefore more sustainable into the future in communities and countries.
    Sherry Marshall recently posted…Love, Simplicity and Nature on TwitterMy Profile

    • I love that, Sherry. “…a leader is not a fixed role. All of us can be leaders at different times.” So true! You are a smart cookie!

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