The need for humility

We take the bus toward Fethiye, Turkey, passing through a world of fog. We are on our way to Oludeniz, where we plan to hike on the Lycian Way.

I don’t realize it, but I will walk through a heritage site, a monument to human suffering, a call for humility.

The next day, we walk to Kayakoy. It is a ghost town, consisting of about 400 abandoned Greek-style houses and churches.

We pass a church and hear some Turkish guys shout to each other. One has climbed over the church’s gate so that he can look inside.


We walk through the ruins.

Kayakoy was a Greek Orthodox Christian village with population of about 2000. In the early 1900’s, the Ottoman government engaged in atrocities against Armanians, Jews, and Greeks –forced deportations, death marches, and arbitrary executions.

In 1917, many Kayakoy villagers were sent on a death march and the roads were strewn with the bodies of children and elderly.

Later that year, Greece invaded, senting troops to Smyra and moving inland. They committed atrocities against the Turkish civilians.

Greek soldiers forced Muslims to leave their homes. Resulting conflict was labeled the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), or, in Turkey, the Turkish War of Independence



In 1922, as part of a peace settlement, Greek and Turkish governments agreed to a population exchange. The few remaining Kayakoy villagers were sent to Greece. In all, about 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks were transported to Greece and 356,000 Muslims were moved from Greece to Turkey. Many did not want to go and had problems adjusting to their new homeland.

Karen is reading a novel, Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernieres. It tells a story set in a fictional town based on Kayakoy.

Turks and Greeks in Kayakoy had lived together and intermarried for centuries. Typically, one of the marriage partners converted to the other’s religion.

I look out from a chapel. The altar had been removed.

“What have you read so far?” I ask Karen.

“It’s about two boys who are best friends. One is Christian and the other is Muslim. It’s also about the rise of Ataturk, the Father of the Turkish Nation.”

“The Muslims and Christians got along okay?” I asked.

“The imam and the priest were friends as were many other people. The two boys were in love with two girls who were best friends and one was Christian and the other Muslim. As you might guess, each boy was attracted to a girl whose religion differed from his.”

“What did their families think about this?”

“The families did not mind so much. The Christians and Musilms got along but the boys were schooled very differently.”

We climb to a building above the ruins of the city and look around.

“There are some ancient tombs around but I don’t see any from the 1920’s,” I say.

“In the book, there was intermingling,” Karen said. “They might bury a man with a crucifix wrapped in a page from the Kor’an in his hand — just to cover all the bases, I guess.”

I see chickens. People live in houses on the edge of the ruins.

It must have been strange to have your neighbor forced to leave home and for the house to forever remain empty. The government tried to get Muslims from Greece to live in the abandoned houses, but the refugees refused to stay.

“I’m not more than halfway through the book,” Karen explains. “They’ve already taken away the Armenians but I haven’t gotten to the part where they take away the Greeks.”

Lao tsu writes (chapter 61):

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.”

Kayakoy is a monument to the effects of religious intolerance and over-zealous nationalism — of the type that leads to atrocities and war.

Lao tsu discusses “a nation” but I think the actual emphasis is on “non-doing.” Standard political paradigms involve getting and keeping power. Power is not generally connected to humility. Those who don’t have power often feel angry but trying to overthrow the system is not in harmony with the Tao.

The Inner Way leads to happiness rather than power. It involves meditation, focusing the mind, letting go of whatever thoughts come up.

This does not actually do anything. In involves undoing. By doing nothing inside, you come into harmony with yourself. By coming into harmony with yourself, you lose yourself since when thoughts of yourself come up, you let them go. This is the way to happiness and tranquility.

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