Review by Mike Bruffee, ’14
In just a few short weeks, City Year Boston welcomes 265 young idealists to their corps. But while they’re soaking in the final days of their summer, here’s one book I think AmeriCorps members should include in their summer reading list (and their corps year reading list) is Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell. This book was a valuable reference to me during my service year.
Tao Te Ching, or “The Book of the Way” was written more than 3,000 years ago by philosopher Lao Tzu. It is an ancient manual for living life and leading others in a way that is wise and adaptable. This is similar to City Year value of “Level Five Leadership.”
I first read this book in high school, when I was babysitting for a family friend. It was a different translation, but the spirit remains same. It really helped me accept who I was and I learned how to become a leader among my peers.
“When you are content to be simply yourself,
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.”
Students look up to us, and if we are posturing to be somebody we aren’t, they can smell it a mile away. I’ve found this book to be really helpful as a reference point for ensuring I am carrying and presenting myself in a genuine way.
Another really big piece of advice this book offers is acknowledging that everything has its place. During my corps year, I experienced the whole range of emotions: joy, faith, self-doubt, exhaustion, happiness, sadness, anger, forgiveness, and the list goes on. Lao Tzu encourages the “Master” (in other words, the AmeriCorps member) to embrace all experiences as having their place.
“There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.”
Lao Tzu also offers valuable insight into true knowledge and intelligence. I don’t want to spoil the novel for you, but here’s another small peak at Lao Tzu’s wisdom:
“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.”
If we are to be true mentors and provide a space for students to grow into themselves, we need to know ourselves and “master ourselves.” There are hundreds of wonderful nuggets of wisdom in the Tao Te Ching, and I encourage next year’s corps--and everyone--to read this book, not once, not twice, but over and over again.