Higher Virtue has no force;
this is its strength.
Common virtue does not relinquish force;
this is its weakness.

Higher Virtue speaks without voice, without self-interest.
Compassion speaks out, in the interest of others.
Righteousness speaks loudly, out of self-interest.
Piety speaks loudly, then when when nobody pays any attention,
rolls up its sleeves and uses force.

when the Way is lost, there is still Virtue;
when Virtue is lost, there is still compassion;
when compassion is lost, there is righteousness;
when righteousness is lost, there is piety.

Public piety about faith and loyalty
is the dead husk of honor and good faith;
the flowering of piety marks the beginning of disorder.
Such foresight is a flower of the Way;
though to focus on foresight is the beginning of folly.

The great man
values the substance, not the husk;
values the fruit, not the flower:
by avoiding the one, he chooses the other.


chapter notes:

In the second verse, I have substituted “speaking” for “taking action”.

This is one of the few cases where I have let political philosophy lie more or less undistorted. Although you can apply the lessons here to internal corporate bullshit, it is still more apposite to political demagoguery.