On How to Repair a Rotting Roof or Life or Society
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The I Ching or The Book of Changes is an ancient Chinese Taoist text that can be used for divination as well as study. The text covers an extensive and broad array of Taoist logic and morality. It is an ultimate advice book covering family, politics, crime and punishment, personal responsibility, the laws of nature, and just about any aspect of the individual and public aspects of being and the Tao. Hexagrams are built from the bottom up with the first two lines representing the lowly of society, the middle line as a transition from low to high, the fourth line represents the minister, the fifth line is the prince or ruler, and the top line is the sage.
The eighteenth hexagram (there are 64 in total) is called Work on What has Been Spoiled or in other translations it is simply called Repair. Like all of the hexagrams, the eighteenth hexagram can be endlessly contemplated, and one will find the message expands over time as we grow as individuals. The hexagram itself covers repairing personal mistakes as well as national and universal human blunders. It advises on how an individual, family, ruler, nation, and sage should set about repairing a situation that has become rotten. Each line of hexagram eighteen helps one learn about repairing bad situations brought on by the actions of people (versus Mother Nature or accidents without malice or negligence).
The first line's main thrust is that decay has set in because of a too rigid adherence to tradition. Taoism values flexibility and warns against rigidity. If you don't address problems or decay that have come about because of being too tied to tradition there will be more considerable trouble ahead. People, companies, and nations can all suffer and decay if they become too rigid and do not adjust with some flexibility to the changes that the passing of time demands. Remember, the I Ching is The Book of Changes.
The second line is a standout in the hexagram. Here, it is a warning not to go overzealous when repairing relatively trivial problems or delicate emotional issues. When working to correct decay in yourself or loved ones on more personal matters, it's crucial to tread lightly and not pursue the matter too ardently. It is a case of making sure the medicine is not more dangerous than the illness you are trying to cure. This is the only line that addresses personal blame and decay, like a person becoming sober and making amends or any other kind of personal flaw that needs repairing. In Taoist logic, they warn in various ways not to be too hard on oneself, as it usually causes more damage than the original flaw. Many modern treatments for addiction also recognize the damaging effects of shame and seek to help the addict forgive themselves.
The third line is about trying to repair a past mistake and pursuing the matter with a little too much aggression. This hexagram is dealing with an error or mistake that has a greater community and societal impact. In line two, you are warned to go softly in personal, emotional, or trivial matters. However, in this case, the advice is that when it comes to errors that have a larger community or societal impact, it is better to be too aggressive in trying to repair the situation than making a feeble attempt to fix the problem.
The fourth line is about what happens if you do not actively strive to repair what has been spoiled. Essentially, you will face a total collapse that will not be repairable. This line speaks of a situation where the decay's impact is beyond the interpersonal or trivial and is a more extensive community matter. It warns what happens when a person or larger body like a school administration, governmental administration, or corporation takes too lightly the spreading rot. There is an aspect of being in denial and a tone regarding the human tendency to adapt to dangerous and unstable conditions and how we must resist that natural adaptive trait to save ourselves and society from decay. Adapting to corruption or violence or any other kind of decay will not only not solve the problem, but it will also lead to a total collapse of the person, family, business, community, or nation.
The fifth line is one of praise and honor. It is the place of the ruler and has three key elements that lead to high praise and honor. The ruler first takes responsibility for what has been spoiled. Whether the decay was by an individual or larger body, the person in the fifth line takes the lead in taking responsibility for the problem. The second element is forming a clear plan on how to restore order and repair what has decayed. The third element is to rally the people to help restore wholeness to the situation. The fifth line is meant to be applied to larger, more public efforts to repair a societal, public, or national sin. It is intended to help leaders and future leaders learn how to address decay within the system wisely. A boss from a small company, a parent, a high school principal, or a sports coach could take advantage of the Taoist way to set about repairing what has been spoiled through folly, gross misconduct, and moral failure. It is important to note that rarely is the leader directly at fault, as most decay begins long before the problems or ill-effects surface. All the nobler that the leader should take responsibility nonetheless, devise a clear plan for repairing the situation, and rally the people to join their effort.
The sixth and final line of the hexagram is a call for duty or acknowledgment of the sages that remove themselves from day-to-day service to leaders and society. Instead, they set their sights on contemplating and striving to solve deeper problems within humanity with not an eye for the present but an instinct to help humanity for all time. Buddha saw that the root of human agony resided in our minds and delusional thinking. Russian writer Leo Tolstoy dedicated his life and work to contemplating the moral and spiritual duty of man and the meaning of life. It is a genuinely inspiring finish to the hexagram and a call to contemplate the human condition at its most deep and profound levels.
The eighteenth hexagram Working on What has Been Spoiled is ultimately optimistic. Within the hexagram text, it makes clear that while the situation has become rotten and spoiled, it is still repairable. It makes clear that sticking too rigidly to tradition is a significant cause for decay. It also clarifies that in matters of the heart, personal problems, personal relationships, and more trivial problems, it is vital that one does not make matters worse by overzealously working to correct the issue. On more critical issues that affect society or the community, it is better to be overzealous than soft in preventing disaster. It is imperative to remember that people can get very used to dangerous and decaying situations. We are by nature adaptable and must not let ourselves get accustomed to corruption and moral failure—otherwise, we will face the point of no return and will be unable to repair the situation (think the fall of Rome). The best way for a leader to deal with a decayed situation is to take responsibility regardless of whether or not they were directly to blame, come up with a clear plan of action, and then rally the community, company, or nation to help repair the situation. Lastly, there is a special call to a rare type of person to not solely work for the betterment of his community or nation, rather to contemplate what could elevate and set a wise moral bar for humanity for all time.
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.” You can follow Jennifer on her Instagram here.
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