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Since capital punishment is not generally a management option these days, I have converted such references to being fired, instead.

Alternately, I have sometimes contextualized “life” in the modern colloquial sense, as in “get a life!”.

At the risk of stating the obvious: note that, in the original context of the Dao De Jing, capital punishment was very much a management option. So much so that an entire chapter (#74) was basically a reminder than any threat, even the threat of death, loses power if it is overused.

A windfall is as great a cause for concern as a disaster;
value your greatest fears as you do your life.

What does this mean?
When the bug fixes itself:
what is origin of this windfall —
where did it come from,
and when will it leave?
Your greatest fears:
their origin is that you have a life —
if you have no life,
what need for fear?

Therefore, he who puts his life before his job
can be trusted with his job;
he who puts his life before the world
can be trusted with the world.


chapter notes:

While retargeting the second verse, I have preserved much of the sense of the the original, but the structural parallel between the two explanations is novel.

In the last verse, I have translated “world” to “job” in the first statement, and left it as is in the second statement. Note that, in the original, the ideal is for “the ruler”, “the Sage” and “the people” all to value their lives, but there does not seem to be any particular emphasis on a parallel between them.

November 2009

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