80 – The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
Once again, Lao produces a turn of phrase that I can only envy. Chapter 80 calls for a pre-method “state of grace” – when all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students, and where learning was jointly constructed out of the talk that evolved in that simplest, and most prototypical of situations. OK, that was Thornbury Tzu. Lao Tzu called for a society where technological tools exist but grow dusty through disuse. People are happy with what they have and don’t feel the need to add to it. Even writing is left in favour of the use of knotted ropes (not some sort of flagellant society, but a precursor to writing in ancient China). Oh lawks! I can hear you thinking, He was some sort of mad anarcho-primitivist. Another Unabomber. But this is to miss the point.
Lao doesn’t advocate a return to the Stone Age just because he thinks technology is bad. He wants a life where people are happy, contented, and able to rediscover the pleasure in the simplest things that their worlds have to offer. Why? Well in a verse that I am going to quote in full because I think it’s so damned beautiful, he explains that if we obsess with the need to fill our life with ephemeral junk
The next little country might be so close
the people could hear cocks crowing
and dogs barking there,
but they’d get old and die
without ever having been there.
Phew! I’ve referenced Tolstoy’s view that the kingdom of God is within you and here we have the same. If we divorce ourselves from the simplest delights and experiences of this world, we will be oblivious to the fact that the promises of Paradise are already with us. This is all there is. So, for language teachers, we can extrapolate, Lao is telling us once again that all we need to do a grand job can be found in the room that we teach in. Teachers’ books, DVD guides, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Wordles, Word Magnets, Hot Potatoes, talking avatars – all may carry the echo of dogs barking and cocks crowing, but if we rely only on tracing the echo to find the real thing, we will grow old and die without ever finding our goal. A chair, a blackboard, some students and a teacher.
I am reminded of a poem when I read Scott’s “some chairs, a blackboard, some students and a teacher.” The poem was written by Yannis Ritsos and goes, “A man, before going to bed, put his watch under his pillow./Then he went to sleep. Outside the wind was blowing. You who know/the miraculous continuity of little motions, understand./ A man, his watch, the wind. Nothing else.”