I was reading a passage with my AP Latin students recently in which two military leaders were arguing about the best response to a report of a pending attack from the enemy. The argument went through the night. Finally, the Latin text says, one of the men “manus dat.” The two words literally mean: He gives the hands. Not to be confused with “giving the finger” this phrase is a gesture of its own: raising one’s hands up in the air as to say: I give up. I yield. I am conquered. I let go. To give up the hands.
There is a long standing tradition in ancient Taoism that calls this wisdom. There is a shorter tradition in our culture of calling that cowardice. This chapter from the Tao te Ching sounds as if it were written just for our age which believes that trying to control everything is what finally will make us happy.
He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand form.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.*
Just do your job and then let go. This is a form of chosen loss–to choose to let go of a situation or idea or even relationship. Our inclinations are to hang on and try to control. Letting go just might be what allows wisdom and balance to unfold. Notice today: what things are tugging against our control? Let’s try “giving the hands.” Let’s try letting go and allowing what follows to take shape.
*chapter 24 of the Tao Te Ching, from a translation by S. Mitchel.