Tao takedown

 The Tao of Inner Peace
And inner peace remained elusive

Do you know five edible plants native to your region? Or what phase the moon is in now? Does a meeting with friends give you energy? Are you proud to tell people what your job is?

If you answered no to these questions, there may be something wrong with you. You're not a “Tao person,” and according to Diane Dreherâe(TM)s The Tao of Inner Peace, you need to learn how to harmonize with the Tao.

Dreher is a former sixties activist turned New-Age consultant. She has written not just this but a series of books (The Tao of Personal Leadership; The Tao of Womanhood; Inner Gardening) that purport to interpret the teachings of the legendary Chinese sage Laozi to help upper-middle-class Americans solve lifestyle glitches and achieve world peace while advancing their careers at the same time.

If this book already appeals to you, don't hurry through the rest of this reviewâe"you might de-centre something.

A lit theory prof of mine taught that the best form of criticism was internal critique: showing how the logic of a book works against itself. Sometimes, however, external critique is better, such as when a massive bestseller, into many reprints, is complete bullshit.

To be fair, bullshit is not exactly what you'd call The Tao of Peace; it's too full of empty platitudes and truisms for that: “Aware of the cycles in life, we realize that for every project, every process, thereâe(TM)s a beginning and endingâe¦ Our seeds will sprout when they are ready.” Wordy bromides are threaded with teaching tales about dysfunctional people; nitty-gritty advice like “don't overuse bleach and scouring powders”; helpful tips on cleaning out drawers and closets; descriptions of “quick chi breaks” you can take at work; and tips on how to shield yourself from relentlessly negative people. (Who, me?)

Which brings us to the internal critique. To quote Dreher, “we're all part of the one, but sometimes we get distracted by the details.” But the book is bursting with small details. While sometimes useful one by one, they don't hang together as much more than a mushy self-help encyclopedia, and their relationship to Laozi is incidental at best. You could say they are not in harmony with the Tao.

What's more, the author predictably favours the positive, the soft, the yielding; she is dangerously de-centred and out of touch with her yang side.

But the biggest problem with this book is that it is tedious and repetitive. It is a struggle to pick up where you've left off. Each page sounds like the next. If it's not irritating you with affected dulcet tones, it's putting you to sleep.

Diane, here's a clue from Laozi himself:

In ancient times there were great Taoist Sages.Their way of living was so deep, so subtle, it cannot be directly explained.

So why spend 300 pages explaining it to the gullible, the self-centred, those genuinely in need of help? Apparently, because it sells. People will pay you to tell them what they want to hear. But as Laozi also said, “true words are not pleasant; pleasant words are not true.”

What is there to do when the original “Tao person” himself brings you down with that kind of negative energy?

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