There was a time when I thought I had lost everything that ever meant anything. In my distress I left my home behind in hopes of discovering that which had vanished from my life.
I wandered west until I came to the sea; I could go no farther. Being cold I turned left; I walked south until I reached the lean land of Mexico. In those days it wasn't anything to cross over the border. I walked a good long ways under a warm Mexican sun until I gave in to the call of forgetfulness.
The booze was cheap and strong. I drank too much at a little cantina just outside of Magdalena. I woke the next morning not knowing where I was or how I had come to be there. My pockets were empty. My throat was dry. I was too proud to beg.
Finding myself alone in a strange city and hungry I walked into a Catholic church hoping to find solace and a friend. The building felt familiar; door was unlocked; the custodian greeted me warmly. He spoke in Spanish telling me the executioner was out but he would be back shortly. In the mean time he wondered if I was hungry.
I was starving. The old man went to a stained and wheezing refrigerator and taking out a brown paper sack he handed me a tortilla and a bowl of re-fried beans. I knew it was his lunch but I ate it anyway scooping the beans into the tortilla with my fingers. I was never partial to Mexican food but that lunch was one of the best I'd ever eaten in my life. When I finished I licked my fingers clean while thanking the old man profusely.
A few minutes later the executioner arrived. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was angry with the custodian for having allowed me entry into the church. The padre sent the custodian out of the room and then he threw me out of the building with a stern lecture not to return lest he call la mantenimiento del orden. I left the town behind to its dust.
Instead of becoming an executioner I was influenced into becoming a custodian.
From the loving example of one man a whole state becomes loving; from one man's courtesies a whole state becomes courteous. At the same time from one man's ambitions and perverseness a whole state may be led to rebellious disorder. Such is the nature of influence.
If the household is rightly ordered then the people of the state may be taught. When a leader loves what the people love and hates what the people hate then they are called a parent to the people. Leaders of families, churches, and states may not neglect compassion or care. If they deviate to mean selfishness they will disgrace not only themselves but those they serve and their house will not stand for long.
If people are under the influence of passion their conduct will be incorrect; they will be the same if they are under the influence of hunger, or under the influence of fond regard, or under the influence of sorrow and distress. When the mind is not present people look but do not see; they hear but do not understand. To cultivate a person depends upon rectifying the mind.
Rome fell because the people were starving. Why were the people starving? The people were starving because the rulers ate up the money in taxes to fund never-ending wars. So the people lost their land and the farmers could no longer grow crops. Therefore the people were starving.
In a household, a church, or a state, pecuniary gain should not be considered to be prosperity but its prosperity should be found in righteousness. When those who preside over households, churches, and states make revenues their chief business they are under the influence of small, mean people. They may consider these people to be good but when such a person is employed by a family, a church, or a state, calamities from heaven and injuries from men will befall it.
Rome fell because the people became rebellious. Why did the people become rebellious? The people became rebellious because the leaders interfered with them too much. The ritual of taxation demanded too great a sacrifice so the people became rebellious.
By gaining the people, the household, the church, and the state are gained. By losing the people, the household, the church, and the state are lost. On this account the leader will first take pains about their own virtue. Possessing virtue will give them the people. Possessing the territory will give them its wealth. Virtue is the root; wealth is the result. If the leader makes the root a secondary object and its result primary they will only wrangle with the people and teach them rapine.
The accumulation of wealth is the way to scatter the people while letting wealth scatter among them is a way of collecting the people. Wealth gotten by improper ways will take its departure by the same. Goodness obtains the decree; the want of it loses it.
Rome fell because the people thought so little of death. Why did the people think so little of death? Because the rulers made too great of demands on their lives, so the people welcomed death. They could no longer see the good for the bad, the right way to go for the wrongs heaped upon them.
By keeping to the center, by finding a pivot point, one comes to see there are always a right and a wrong; there are always a this and a that; these two produce each other. Those who cling too tightly to one and then to the other vacillate back and forth; they have not found their point of correspondency. By exacting more than is fair, by sending away the hungry and by turning out the tired, even the great state of Rome was lost. What chance did I have against the executioner?
Having little to live on, I know better than to value life too highly.