XVIII: Fixing the Table by Flipping It

Hexagram 18: Work on What Has Been Spoiled (Decay)
Hexagram 18: Work on What Has Been Spoiled (Decay)

This post is the eighteenth of sixty-four in our Days of Change series exploring each hexagram of the ancient Chinese I Ching one by one. To sample others in this series – or go wild and read from the beginning – go here.

Sorry Baby Boomers, but this question is for everyone else: how many times have you shaken a fist at the boomers for the mess they made of society? Maybe I’m just vindictive, but I do it all the time. Especially since it’s on us now to fix everything – or to accept worsening disaster.

It's THIS guy's fault.
It’s THIS guy’s fault.

All generational venom aside, the eighteenth hexagram presents before us a situation of decay. In fact, the specific image we are given is that of a bowl full of worms (I didn’t feel like hitting up Google Images for a picture). Not only that – we’re told it’s our fault the bowl is filled with worms. Terrible, right?

Actually, this is both good and bad. In this case, the fact that all this is our fault – or the fault of previous generations – means it is not a matter of fate. There is no external force or reality with which we must contend. Instead, the wormy bowl is a man-made problem and can likewise be solved by man. In fact, that is what this is all about. Not the worms themselves, but the work we need to do to dispose of the loathsome creatures and sanitize the bowl. No time like the present, right? When you see a bowl full of worms, you don’t leave it there to take care of later on. You’d risk returning to find the worms now strewn all across the table. Those things breed, man. So when confronted with these sorts of problems, don’t be afraid of hard work and even a little danger. Like I said, the wormy bowl is right there in front of you. It’s on you to do something.

The helpful tips found in the text’s image remind me of Jesus flipping over the tables in the temple. As the story goes, at the time he arrived at the highest and most holy temple in Jerusalem, near the end of his life, it had become accepted custom for a sleazy little marketplace to operate there. Money was lent by greedy loansharks at extremely high rates of interest, and sketchy “money changers” took advantage of the large number of foreigners in the bustling city to exchange currencies while exacting massive and percentages for themselves in the way of fees. This might be reason enough to get angry if it were happening in an actual marketplace. This is the kind of accepted custom that can wholly corrupt a society if left unchecked. In the temple, however, this was inconceivable. It was blasphemy in the highest sense of the word. Without any connection to Judaism (or even Christianity), I am offended by the notion. What did Jesus do? He flipped over all the tables and kicked everybody out. This crazy hick gringo rabbi (not really a gringo) just showed up from out of nowhere and flipped over the tables, knocking money everywhere and shocking the hell out of the shrewd businessmen, who legitimately didn’t see anything wrong with what they were doing, since it was already accepted custom. The result? Public opinion was stirred up. In fact, Jesus may have been killed for this very act.

Jesus fixing it. Action style.
Jesus fixing it. Action style.

Naturally, I don’t advocate any of you doing anything that will lead to your crucifixion. Hopefully it will never come to that. But the text does speak to customs and fashions in society which are accepted and which corrupt the society. Surely, this isn’t too hard for any of us to imagine today in the United States of America. When customs are so filled with corruption and profanity, the I Ching does sort of tell us to do what Jesus did. It suggests we wildly stir up public opinion in dramatic fashion such that the opinions themselves are raised into the air and scattered in the wind – and they might just settle afterwards into a new, more beneficial, order. This too is our work. If we can stir up the public, it’s then our job to strengthen it, then to calm it down into a new way of doing things.

This sort of thing isn’t ever going to be easy, but I’m not kidding you. That’s really what it says. It’s everyone’s responsibility, too, with no exemptions. Even the imaginary sage, sitting high atop a mountain, or a monk in a similarly situated monastery, high holy people who do not participate directly in society and can be argued to be independent of it – even this holy sage is responsible, in his meditations today, for the creation of the values of the world of tomorrow. It’s a heavy responsibility, but not a bad one to have. Better this way than the terrifying immutability of destiny. Right?

It also reminds us, however, that very careful deliberation must be employed before we flip over the tables. (Imagine.) Of course, we need to be fully sure what exactly the problem is. We don’t want to flip the wrong table, do we? And once we figure out the right problem to fix, we need to go about it carefully and be sure that we don’t abandon the effort early. If we walk away and the loansharks and con men set their shops right back up, we haven’t done anything particularly useful.

Now, considering what is before us, we are advised to be gentle and mild if the cause of the decay is identified strictly as some form of weakness. Going at it too hard (like throwing things and shoving people) can actually make the problem worse. If, on the other hand, as is likely, the cause is identified as the customs brought to us by the past, by our forebears (peace be upon them), we are first comforted by the knowledge that the damage is reparable. This is not to suggest that we take the danger lightly – quite the opposite, in fact. In a line that could speak very specifically to the outcome of our poor friend Jesus, we’re told that to try and fix things too energetically will likely lead to some form of difficulty and resistance; still, we’re told it’s better to go at it too hard than to lightly.

Now if we ourselves are too weak to fix the entrenched customs as they already are, we are promised that things will get worse. Oftentimes, though, even under the worst of conditions, if we can’t handle it all by ourselves, we can meet the challenge with the help of others. Look for those who are willing to help! I cannot stress that enough. With the right helpers, even in the darkest of ages, even if you cannot revolutionize society fully into new ways of being, you will at least be able to reform the worst of the accepted corruption.

You’ll at least be able to get the worms out of the bowl so they stop grossing everybody out.

You'll at least be able to fix the capstone of the monument. :) Salaam.
You’ll at least be able to fix the capstone of the monument. :) Salaam.
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