“This is an important book for anyone who dreams of a better world.” Rex Wyler, author of Greenpeace: The Inside Story.

Buy Carry Tiger to Mountain

I wrote Carry Tiger to Mountain: The Tao of Activism and Leadership (Arsenal, 2006) because as activists, I believe we need a new way of acting for the things that we love, whether it be wild creatures, children, freedom, the arts or human dignity. As an activist myself since 1988, that new way has been a very old book: the 2,500 year old Tao te Ching. The Tao te Ching – translated to be the Way and its Virtue – has informed and guided my work as an activist since the age of 16. Because I love the people who are struggling to make our world a better place, and I love the work that we do, I wanted to share with others some of the insights I’ve had into the Way, and how we can use them to defend what we love.

This is a beautiful and compelling book. Speaking from the heart and from direct personal experience, Stephen Legault eloquently describes what it is like to be an activist in civil society today. But he does more than that, which is this book’s power: blending the time honoured wisdom of the always popular Tao te Ching with his actual experiences as a leader of non-profit environmental groups in his native Canada, he relates the two together in a remarkable and compelling tapestry that touches the heart of any reader.

~ Brock Evans, President, US Endangered Species Coalition

How you know that Carry Tiger to Mountain is a good  book for you:

You want to change the world. You are part of a community organization, the human rights movement, a leader of an ethically driven business, an environmental group or are simply a citizen who is working quietly in your community to ensure your children have a safe place to play or that your water isn’t polluted. You face daily challenges. You struggle. Sometimes you overcome, and sometimes you fall behind. More than 2500 years ago, Lao Tzu wrote a simple, elegant book of verse that for thousands of years has inspired and guided leaders of nations, armies and business. Now, Carry Tiger to Mountain brings the wisdom to the Tao te Ching – the Book of the Way and its Virtue – to those who struggle to make the world better for us all.

Synopsis of Carry Tiger to Mountain

Carry Tiger to Mountain is an interpretation of Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching for activists and leaders within various activist movements in North American civil society. It is also an explanation of how the Tao, and Taoist thought, might be applied to the challenges, conflicts, and obstacles that activists face as they fight against poverty and environmental degradation, for workers’ rights, freedom of expression, equality, and social justice.

The book includes an interpretation of the Tao te Ching’s 81 verses, tailored to today’s activists, progressive business leaders, and leaders within progressive, civil society. This interpretation is not a direct translation, but rather my interpretation of the Tao te Ching. The balance of the book explains how the Tao’s ancient wisdom can be used by activists and leaders to help us protect what we love. It covers such topics as fundraising, working in coalitions, strategy, managing conflict and change ,and finding balance between our efforts as activists and other elements of a healthy life.

Here is a look at what’s inside Carry Tiger to Mountain:

1) Carry Tiger to Mountain

The Three Treasures: Restraint, Compassion, and Love

The central themes of the Tao te Ching are restraint, compassion, and love. These themes are critical in our work as activists and leaders: without them we will fail to achieve what we struggle for.

If we fight against intolerance with anger, our victories will be hollow. If we triumph over our adversaries without exercising restraint and compassion, we will only win a temporary victory. If we engage in our work without love, our hearts will grow weary long before we achieve our life’s work.

Whether it be peace, human rights, equality, or the protecting the environment, our efforts to achieve these ends are made more difficult when we abandon Lao Tzu’s three treasures. As leaders and as activists, our work is made easier, more effective, and more rewarding when we embrace these tenants.

2) Retreat to Ride Tiger

Acting Without Action

Another pillar of the Tao te Ching is that of “no action” or “acting without action.” As activists we are people of action. Act is at the very root of the word itself. To suggest to an activist that the best course may be to take no action is anathema to our sense of urgency. But sometimes we must step back from our activism in order to see the best path to take. Sometimes, taking no action at all is the way to accomplish our goals.

To Lao Tzu’s way of thinking, always being in motion, always taking some action eclipses the mind’s ability to see the right course of action. Sometimes we must stand back and allow space for the right action to “arise of its own accord.” Then we can seize opportunities that are created when we provide enough mental and physical space.

3) Appear to Close Entrance

The Tao of Strategy

At the heart of our work is the art of developing and executing strategy. Lao Tzu’s book, written for the ancient rulers of feudal China, and used by business professionals and military leaders for millennia, offers key lessons for the modern strategist.

True to his own teachings, Lao Tzu kept his advice on strategy plain: make simple plans and keep them hidden; be prepared for the unexpected; know how to take advantage of opportunities as they arise; choose conflict as a last resort; know when to yield and when to stop. Of these, possibly the most important and most challenging is the notion of capturing your opponent whole.

4)Step up to Seven Starts

Conflict and Crisis

As ethically driven business leaders or social and environmental activists we can count on encountering conflict. Lao Tzu cautions against entering into conflict if at all possible, and advises that all other means be exhausted before we engage this way. Here I examine the different approaches taken by different types of organizations to achieve civil society’s goals. Some groups, for example, work to change the practices of government and business from within. Others rally the support of the public to pressure business and government for change. Still others engage in civil disobedience. Lao Tzu has lessons for each type of organization.

If we must enter into conflict, Lao Tzu suggests doing so with a “humble heart” because, he says, we cannot win a battle. Someone always loses, and as a result, long-term consequences are felt on both sides. Bitterness and resentment by the loser often results in the need to “re-fight” the battle many, many times.

This chapter examines how the Tao te Ching can help activists, from kitchen-table grassroots crusaders to seasoned veterans, avoid conflict when they can, manage conflict when they can’t, and respond to crises as they arise.

5) White Stork Cools Wings

Hot Taoist Tips for Fundraising

“If you believe you have enough, you will.” That is the message that Lao Tzu delivers to today’s fundraisers and venture capital seekers. As a fundraiser myself, my response for the longest time was, “Yeah, right.” But as I’ve applied the Tao te Ching to my leadership and my fundraising for activism, I’ve learned that the less anxious I am about raising money, the more likely I am to have success.

Fear is the greatest barrier to acquiring the resources we need to accomplish our goals. Lao Tzu has sage advice for fundraisers. Whether you are holding a bake sale or making a million-dollar ask, Lao Tzu’s message is simple: Have a mentality of abundance, and trust that what you need will “arise of its own accord.”

This chapter applies these abstract concepts to concrete, first-hand examples for fundraisers of all sizes.

6) Creeping Low Like a Snake

Working with Others with Humility

The essence of Taoist thought when working with others – be they individuals, businesses, or other groups and organizations – is to lower yourself before them. Lao Tzu frequently uses the example of water, pointing out that all rivers flow to the sea because it is lower than they are.

As activists and business leaders we cannot accomplish our goals alone. We work with others to form alliances – which could be two or three people around the kitchen table, or a large multi-national organization — because we can accomplish together what we can’t do by ourselves. If we want to work harmoniously with others, it is best not to call attention to our own strengths, but rather to emphasize the strengths of others. Doing this in a way that doesn’t belittle others is the way of the Tao. When we shine a spotlight on ourselves, we cast long shadows over other people.

Rarely in my nearly 20 years as an activist and leader of organizations have I worked alone to accomplish my campaign objectives. Working in coalitions, in business alliances, networks, and unions is how much of the work of social activism gets done. Lao Tzu’s good advice will help keep people focused on the task at hand, rather than on organizational competition and politics.

7) Wave Hands Like Clouds

Moving through Challenge and Change

Wave Hands Like Clouds is about the value of movement in our effort to balance our complex lives as activists and leaders. For much of my activist career I have studied Tai Chi. It is my practice of Tai Chi that allows me to internalize the mysterious lessons of the Tao te Ching and use them in my work.

In Wave Hands Like Clouds I explore the relationship between physical movement – walking, biking, martial arts, etc. – and our ability to move through challenges and changes as activists, leaders, and human beings.

I draw on the lessons of the previous chapters and point out that when I have a particularly challenging decision to make I often make no decision at all. At least not until I have gone for a walk along the river, or for a quick ski. Then, after moving my body and focusing a while on that movement, the right decision frequently “arises of its own accord.”

Forest for the TreesStep Back to Ward off Monkey

Balancing Leadership, Activism, and a Healthy Life

There are moments in Tai Chi where we step up — to raise hands, to parry a punch, to kick — and balance for a moment, finding a point of stillness in the motion. In Step Back to Ward off Monkey, we take a pronounced period of stillness to ward off an imaginary foe.

In this final chapter of Carry Tiger to Mountain, I examine the need to find those moments of stillness after stepping up in our work as activists and leaders. The Monkey, in this case, is the one we activists frequently carry on our backs – overwork, burn-out, and failing health and relationships.

It is well known that many activists and leaders do not lead balanced lived. The Tao te Ching provides many comments on the value of balance, and how if we are to accomplish our goals — which we all know will take a lifetime — we must find the balance to ensure that our lifetime is long, rich, rewarding, and filled with love.