The Tao of Eastwood

Chapter 9

Know Your Limitations

Well, you’re a good man Lieutenant. A good man always knows his limitations.

Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan | Magnum Force

Those who stand on tip toes do not stand firmly.
Those who rush ahead don’t get very far.
Those who try to outshine others dim their own light.
Those who call themselves righteous
can’t know how wrong they are.
Those who boast of their accomplishments
diminish the things they have done.

Tao Te Ching | from verse 24

If I had to define Inspector Callahan in one word, I would use the word grounded.

Though he often has to take matters into his own hands, he is not the ghostly loner of the Spaghetti Westerns. He knows his place is out on the street, following leads and apprehending law-breakers. He has no ambition towards being a politician or part of the bureaucracy and this seems to be just fine with him.

In this film, “Dirty” Harry discovers the righteous indignation of a small faction of cops who see themselves as above the system. They go beyond their limitations as enforcers of the law to become judge, jury and executioner. They are lost to their own twisted ideals.

Callahan, conversely, is focused on what he knows he is able to do and sets about doing it. There is no fanfare or accolades and he doesn’t expect any.

Again, this character is reflected in the words of Lao Tzu. The desire to want more than you have or more than you need, like titles or position or fame, may get you those things, but they will not bring lasting satisfaction.

The stronger your need for them to define who you are, the deeper the dissatisfaction.