Right and Wrong for Taoists

I know two women in their 50s who are addressing similar issues. One woman has an elderly mother in a nursing home suffering with Alzheimers and other medical issues. The woman goes to the home every weekend to bathe and care for her mother, and bring her diapers and other basic essentials even though the mother has long forgotten who she is or even her name.

The other woman I know is planning to move out of state in less than two years. She lives in a high cost of living area and does not have the financial means to purchase a house where she is. She wants to move before she gets too old to enjoy the things she has put off for much of her life. Her father is about to celebrate his 84th birthday, however, and he lives locally. If she moves, she leaves behind her elderly father who refuses to leave his home.

Is it easy to decide who is right and who is wrong here?

Let’s go back to the first woman. What I didn’t mention before is that her now ailing mother was complicit in allowing her father to sexually abuse her for years when she was a child. The mother knew of the ongoing abuse yet did nothing to protect her child in favor of her own self-interests. This resulted in substantial mental problems for the daughter, as you can imagine. Knowing this horrific detail, would we say it is right or wrong for the woman to be engaged in the care of her elderly mother?

There is more to the story with the second woman as well. She is the black sheep of her family, having received the least attention and support of the three siblings. She moved out at 16 years of age, paid her own way through school, and engaged little with the family throughout her adult life. Her parents and siblings were content with this distant arrangement as long as she came back now and then with her checkbook to solve problems for them. Knowing this woman has no bond with her family by their choosing, would we say it is right or wrong for her to move out of state?

We like to label right and wrong (especially when passing judgment on others) but we know in naming one we create the other.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 2

As it would happen, these two women know one another and believe the other one is wrong in her actions. As followers of the Tao, we know both of these women are wrong and right at the same time.

Simple people believe there is a right and wrong decision, their preference being the right one, of course. Refined people of Tao understand the opposite of what we know is also true.

The only solution for these women is to do what is right for them while knowing the opposite action is equally valid. It is difficult to attain this level of understanding when a difficult choice presents itself, but a refined mind can see both sides and make a decision, accepting she cannot do both.


About Leigh

Leigh is an American Taoist philosopher, exploring how modern life and its problems can best be addressed with ancient teachings. She is also a doctor of psychology.
This entry was posted in Spiritual Questions, Taoist Philosophy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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