‘Obstructing it, non-people.
No harvest in noble one’s constancy.
Great goes, small comes.’
The ‘usual’ interpretation of the Judgement of Hexagram 12 is that there are bad people at work, dominating the environment, sabotaging the noble one’s good efforts. And sometimes, indeed, it can mean exactly that – in particular, that someone is promoting malicious rumours. But in my experience of hexagram 12, this isn’t always – or even usually – the case.
Some translations offer an alternative perspective. James Legge writes of ‘the want of good understanding between men’; Thomas Cleary, in his Taoist I Ching, has ‘denial of humanity’. The ‘non-person’ might not be a ready scapegoat for Obstruction; it might represent the attitude of mind that caused it.
‘Non people’, fei ren, are outside the system, not like us – which is a short step from concluding that they are not quite real people. In the Book of Songs, a miserable speaker asks if his ancestors are fei ren – inhuman, without compassion – that they should let him suffer. (Shijing 204)
They are literally ‘bandit people’, outlaws. The online Chinese etymological dictionary shows that ‘bandit’ is fault or evils concealed within an enclosure. The word for ‘evils’ seems to be derived from ‘broken wings’: a perfect image for something misaligned, that doesn’t work because it doesn’t fit together.
It’s not hard to see when a group is labelled as ‘non-people’ on the political scale. It may actually become socially unacceptable, or just unthinkable, to ask how they are motivated as human beings. (Think of the various uses of the word ‘terrorist’.) Labels can become a way of thinking: ‘You wouldn’t expect him to ask directions, he’s male’; ‘well, she would react like that, she’s a Scorpio’; ‘of course he’s hard working, Asians are.’
Much more subtle, much harder to see, are the ways we use labels as a shortcut in individual relationships. She’s hypersensitive, he’s egotistical… and that explains him or her, in a neat package. It may in fact allow you to predict another person’s behaviour with great accuracy – but this is a cheap substitute at best for understanding them. When Hexagram 12 comes up in a reading, this predictive labelling may be getting so rigid as insidiously to replace real connection between people. Whatever is outside the labelled package becomes invisible.
I think Hexagram 12 can also refer to labels we have for ourselves. Synchronistically enough, as I was writing this post I browsed my way to an article by Maryam Webster on ‘Quantum labels’, which begins:
“What labels do you wear? Parent…student…professional…intellectual? Healer…writer…lover…friend? Labels are not only what others “see” us as, but also invisible containers and delimiters we apply to ourselves. Labels represent beliefs we hold about ourselves, and sometimes those beliefs are ones we wish we didn’t have. Beliefs like “I’m lazy”, “I procrastinate”, “I’m not smart enough” and so on.”
The article (unfortunately no longer available) goes on to the slightly quirky suggestion that we should literally wear labels to change our nature at the cellular level. But the idea of an ‘invisible container or delimiter’ reminds me of the ‘box’ in the character ‘fei‘. As long as you are or anyone is wedged inside that box, no amount of nobility and constancy will get you anywhere…