Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Carry Tiger to Mountain: The Tao of Activism and Leadership

by Stephen Legault

One of the key tricks to writing titles in the inspirational/self-help category is to cross the bridge from one’s own sense of fulfillment at having discovered something unique to developing a language that allows outsiders to feel that same sense of reverence and awe. It’s a skill that unfortunately seems to escape environmental activist and Tao te Ching fan Stephen Legault, who, inspired by that ever-popular seventh-century tome – the most translated work after the Bible – hopes to produce a bountiful collection of lessons for contemporary world changers.

While he is unquestionably dedicated to leaving the world a better place than he found it, and his heartfelt love of the Tao and related literature is profound, Legault seems to violate one of the precepts that the ancient Chinese author Lao Tzu is perhaps best known for: just let the message be, and stop clobbering people over the head with it. Legault appears to have taken the content of a three-hour workshop and tried to stretch it over the course of a repetitive book. His premise is also limited, applying largely to the context of North America and forgetting that the majority of the world’s labour organizers, peasant leaders, and women’s collectives can’t just drop everything and go listen to the water rippling in a stream.

It’s not that Legault doesn’t have anything worthwhile to offer – he provides valuable insights into the often contradictory world of an establishment left that all too often mirrors its opponent and loses touch with the grassroots. He just needs a more disciplined focus. Instead, he spends the first third of the book providing pithy Tao-inspired sayings on concepts like patience, love, being a sage activist, and leadership. The following chapters try to break down these concepts and apply them to fundraising and building campaigns.

As with any “how to better run a business” book, most of what is on display here is good old common sense, much of it the product of social struggles that Legault doesn’t get around to mentioning. It’s almost as if the wisdom he imparts leapfrogged 13 centuries and skipped over Gandhi, King, and countless others.