I have been reading Lau-Tzu’s Tao te Ching or Book of the Way for about four years now. I taught Taoism as part of the middle school history curriculum for over 25 years before deciding one day to read its key text cover to cover. I liked what I found so much that I made it a daily exercise for many years, reading one or two selections a day, sometimes some commentary on them. I’ve also read selections from the other main Daoist texts. I’m not claiming any level of expertise, but I have gained six different translations of the Tao te Chinga along with a sense of several key principles that I’ve found useful.
Namely, be the water. The water goes from full places into empty places. It never resists, it simply flows, but it remains the most powerful force, capable of moving mountains. I oversimplify but I hope you can see the point. Whenever my fellow teachers and I were confronted with a particularly obnoxious mandate from our administration at faculty meeting someone would pass along a note with “Be the water.” written on it.
If you tell people you are that you are reading the Tao te Ching many of them will ask if you have read The Tao of Pooh. So last week, on a break from jury duty, I went into the local bookstore to see if they had it. No. It’s out of print, more or less, but you can get the sequel, The Te of Piglet.
Don’t do it.
I knew the book would be on the simple side, the Pooh Corner stories may contain some deep ideas, but they are very simple. This could make them a good way to illustrate the Tao. But the Te of Piglet is largely Mr. Hoff’s opportunity to grind various axes. He frames things in discussions between characters from the 100 Acre Wood, but I did not learn anything about the Tao in the 75 pages I read before I said enough.
This example will do to explain why I left the book in the nearest little free library.
In the chapter called The Eeyore Effect Mr. Hoff advises the reader to stay away from negative people, people like Eeyore. I can’t say that I found that in the Tao te Ching, but I kept reading. He gives an example of extreme feminists whom he calls Eeyore Amazons*. One of his main complaints against them is that they want to change the language through the use of gender-neutral pronouns and words. For example:
“First, they made us change chairman to chairperson–which meant the same thing as chairman, only it was harder to say, longer to write and just a bit silly. After a while, recognizing that chairperson was indeed rather awkward and stupid, they made us change it to chair. You know what a chair is. It’s a thing. You sit on it.“
The Tao te Ching is an ancient text, thousands of years old. It’s not very good when it comes to women; none of the ancient texts are. None of the ones I have read. You could argue that people trying to change the language are not acting like the water would, but neither is Mr. Hoff here. He wrote this in 1992. My copy is the 51st printing of the paperback. So, congratulations to Mr. Hoff on his sales figures, anyway. But even in 1992 this kind of thing sounded like an old man cursing at the void, or the kids on his front lawn. I think even Mr. Rogers had switched from mail man to letter carrier. (Mr. Rogers was usually ahead of the curve on this sort of thing.)
And really, chairman and chairperson do not mean the same thing. Chairperson is only three letters longer, by the way. How much time do you need to write three more letters. Does your hand hurt by the time that final ‘n’ arrives? As for whether or not chair signifies a person or something you sit on, please see Michael Foucault’s lengthy writing on this very topic to discover just how boring this debate really is.
And I promise, the Tao te Ching has nothing to say on the topic. Mr. Hoff went on about it for pages without every bringing in any Taoist text, and I’ve never encountered any to support his position. If anything, the Taoist position should be to use the new language. Languages are living things, much like rivers. They change course all the time. Be the water.
So, The Te of Piglet is DNF. I’ll stick with the Tao te Ching.
*Eeyore Amazons. We the amazons a particularly gloomy set? Ferocious warriors. I always thought that they would party pretty hard. And why shouldn’t they make demands on people and the language they use. They’re ferocious warriors!
2 thoughts on “Be the Water. The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff – DNF”
Oh wow. I remember my parents had a copy of the Pooh one in the 90s. I never picked it up. Thank goodness! (And sadly, I’ve been part of a conversation about changing a job title from “foreman” to “supervisor” that got a bit ugly, in the last couple years…)
I think the Taoist position would be to disengage from “argument’ but to go about using “supervisor” as though that were completely normal. Which it is.
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