Time flies when you're having fun. On August 12, 2019, we will celebrate our 20th anniversary of Sonshi.com. Much has changed since our humble beginning, but what hasn't changed is our commitment to educating the world on Sun Tzu's peaceful solution to war.
What has encouraged me most for at least the last decade is the involvement of women learning and teaching Sun Tzu's Art of War. This isn't your father's Art of War anymore. It's now the strategy and leadership book of choice for many mothers, sisters, and daughters. When more people are educated in making smarter decisions and making things work more effectively, the world is better as a result.
So it is with much joy I have published our recent interview with Dr. Michael Nylan, a female scholar and translator of Sun Tzu's Art of War. Her amazing perspective is well worth the read.
Although it was written 2500 years ago, Sun Tzu's Art of War remains one of the most popular strategy books for leaders in the military, business, politics, and sports. Anyone who has read the book's 13 chapters can understand why it is still useful and relevant in our constantly changing and competitive modern world.
Unfortunately, too many people don't take the time to read Sun Tzu's Art of War. Instead, they pull a quote here and there, usually out of context. If that wasn't bad enough, it isn't unusual to see people judging the entire book simply by its title: The Art of War. By trying to show off how smart and tough they are, they only come across as fakes. Don't be like them. Avoid the following three most common mistakes we see people make about Sun Tzu's Art of War:
Mistake #1: Thinking that The Art of War promotes war
"To achieve a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; to subjugate the enemy's army without doing battle is the highest of excellence." Sun Tzu's Art of War [03.02]
If a urologist writes a book about prostate cancer, would anyone assume that he or she promotes cancer? Nobody would think that. Yet if a general named Sun Tzu writes a book about warfare, why would anyone assume that he promotes wars? The truth is The Art of War is a book that values the prevention of wars above all else and promotes ending battles as quickly as possible should they flare up.
The people who make this first mistake are usually the ones who simply read the title "The Art of War" and thus make an erroneous conclusion. Even smart people make this mistake. Famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson incorrectly stated that Sun Tzu's Art of War readers "learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art." Unlike Mr. Tyson, you know it is quite the opposite.
Mistake #2: Misquoting The Art of War
Three frequent quotes misattributed to Sun Tzu are:
(1) Opportunities multiply as they are seized
(2) Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat
(3) Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer
Much like the first mistake, if you have read The Art of War in full, you would know that none of these quotes appears in the book, not even if they were worded differently. Thus, the only people who would make this second mistake are those who haven't read Sun Tzu's classic. The source of these misattributions is no doubt from the internet. Since it is so easy to copy-and-paste, the mistake is further perpetuated and unfortunately becomes pervasive.
In short, stay away from these three quotes. They did not come from Sun Tzu. Cite directly from the source itself.
Mistake #3: Using Sun Tzu's battle strategies on people you love
"The leader who does not advance to seek glory, or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people's security and promotes the people's interests, is the nation's treasure." Sun Tzu's Art of War [10.18]
As mentioned earlier, Sun Tzu values above all else the ability to win without fighting. However, there will be times when the opposition attacks us regardless of what we do, and therefore, the application of force would be necessary. This is where Sun Tzu guides the reader on how to deceive the aggressor psychologically and wear him down physically. Sun Tzu's battle strategies can be quite clever, relentless, and effective.
For some uninitiated readers, they might think these strategies should be applied in every situation, even on loved ones. The result they would later see, however, is more harm is done than good.
The idea behind reading and applying Sun Tzu's Art of War is to benefit you in life. It is to help you protect yourself and the people you love from harm. When loved ones win, you win. Perhaps you would go so far as to sacrifice yourself for their benefit and well-being. Fortunately, with Sun Tzu's Art of War, you have the option to strategize and prevail instead of suffer in defeat. As you work hard and strive to treasure the people around you, you become the very people who are treasured in return.
Now that you have learned how to avoid the three most common mistakes made about Sun Tzu's Art of War, as a bonus we would like to present you three things you can do:
(1) Stay calm and open-minded until there is clear evidence. Every situation is different. You can make educated guesses but be cognizant that they are only that. But when the evidence is clear, then you must take bold action to correct and improve the situation.
(2) Read, prepare, and do your homework. Even in the most tedious of matters, go the extra mile. This is what separates you from the competition.
(3) Protect and promote all those around you. As they say, charity starts at home. Before you can save the world, you need to gain the habit and capability to exude strength, harmony, and benevolence within the four walls around you.
You can learn more at the Genius of Love blog.
Contrary to what people think they know, Sun Tzu's Art of War doesn't promote war. It doesn't promote violence. It is a work of great wisdom and humanity. If you can hold on to these indisputable concepts in your mind, you will not go wrong.
Recently I see writings in academic circles that try to promote the notion that The Art of War isn't a work of humaneness. That's rather unfortunate and misguided. These academics should pick up their phone. The year 1987 is calling. They are making the same mistakes that others have made before 1988 when Dr. Thomas Cleary wrote his groundbreaking introduction in his translation of The Art of War. He was the first major Western scholar to have gotten our Chinese classic correct.
So with this blog entry I am trying to set the record straight once again. Education is a never-ending endeavor.
Sun Tzu's Art of War is one of the most useful books you can read to stop and prevent conflict. The politicians who read and understand it are less likely to advocate wars. Military generals who read and understand it are more prudent in launching attacks. The everyday civilians who read and understand it are less prone to anger and rash behavior. Sun Tzu's Art of War can help anyone because there is nobody who doesn't have to deal with conflict in his or her life. Our book doesn't simply advise measured actions but quick, powerful, and creative actions to ensure victory and return to harmony. This difference seems subtle but substantial in practice.
May all individuals see things from a wise and mature perspective in the future, one of effective education and peace. ☮
P.S. If you want to discuss more about this, feel free to post your comment below and we'll discuss further.
Good news! Beside the online course The Art of War Course, you can now receive instruction on Sun Tzu's Art of War in a real classroom!
We are teaching Sun Tzu's Art of War in Rome, Georgia, at a brand new learning center called Rome Classes of Rome, Georgia.
You will learn critical concepts of Sun Tzu's Art of War that are often misunderstood by others, and how to apply its useful strategies to your life. There will also be a Q&A session for insightful discussion.
Each class runs for two hours on Saturday or Sunday. The cost is $800. Thus, this would be a great weekend getaway to learn firsthand the most important strategy and leadership book in human history.
To learn more, go to the Sun Tzu's Art of War class page at Rome Classes. See you there!
Today I want to discuss a topic that might be the elephant in the room. If Sun Tzu's Art of War gives the reader an advantage, why would that reader freely share it with others? Someone yesterday said to me it's not smart to tell others about your playbook. So why am I promoting and teaching others around the world about Sun Tzu's Art of War via Sonshi, a book, and this blog?
When I first studied Sun Tzu's Art of War 30 years ago, I knew what I had in my hands was remarkable advice and information. You would think I wanted to keep this advice and information to myself, much like what the feudal Japanese warlords did when they secretly studied their coveted copy of Sonshi (a Japanese transliteration of Sun Tzu).
But I was lucky. I had a wise teacher. The first Art of War book I studied was from Dr. Thomas Cleary published in 1988 (who 20 years later wrote the Preface for our own Art of War book published in 2008). In his Art of War book's introduction, Dr. Cleary refers to a very famous Chinese novel called "Journey to the West," published in circa 1592 AD.
"Journey to the West" tells a story about a magical monkey who eventually became the Monkey King after stealing the devil's sword, became a master in swordsmanship, and founded a monkey civilization. However, even though he was a ruler of an entire nation, he wasn't a ruler of himself. Because of his lack of wisdom, he created a dangerous arms race with neighboring nations. Fortunately, the Monkey King meets Buddha who conquered the Monkey King's ignorance through education.
As a reminder of this education, Buddha slips on a ring around the Monkey King's head that tightens whenever he acts without compassion. Likewise, with Sun Tzu's Art of War, Dr. Cleary wrote:
"The Art of War has been known for a hundred generations as the foremost classic of strategy; but perhaps its greatest wizardry lies in the ring of compassion that Master Sun [Sun Tzu] slips over the head of every warrior who tries to use this book. And as history shows, the magic spell that tightens its grip is chanted whenever a warrior forgets the ring." Thomas Cleary
The insight of the sentence above cannot be overstated. It is to be read carefully and understood fully. In short, if you choose to become a student of Sun Tzu's Art of War, you cannot help but be wiser and more compassionate than before studying the book.
When you have two sides who are fully aware of Sun Tzu's Art of War, they would only engage in battle if victory is assured. But since there can only be one winner in war, one of them will refuse to fight. Unlike simulated competition like in sports where two sides must compete, in war one can always choose to not fight.
An argument might be made that this is merely delaying a fight. But it isn't so simple. First, peace now is better than peace later. Second, with the passage of time, sentiments can change, allowing for more opportunities for reconciliation. And third, according to Sun Tzu, as long as at least one side is wise and proficient at strategy, peace will continue if that side so chooses, especially in defense:
"Those skilled in warfare can make themselves invincible, but cannot necessarily cause the enemy to be vulnerable. Therefore it is said one may know how to win but cannot necessarily do it. One takes on invincibility defending; one takes on vulnerability attacking." Sun Tzu
Even better, if both sides are students of Sun Tzu's Art of War, they will treat all troops well (theirs and the opposition's), strive to leave All-Under-Heaven intact, since their leaders would be "cautious and prudent" and "wise, trustworthy, benevolent, brave, and disciplined." These are the qualities that are geared toward solving problems, not escalating them. These are the qualities that push for peace, not war, or at a minimum, push for a quick end to war if it has started already.
Ideally, if everyone in the world is a student of Sun Tzu's Art of War, we would not have more wars, but instead we would have more educated people who truly understand the full costs of war and have the mindset, creativity, and compassion to resolve differences. Unless every option has been exhausted, the mere suggestion of war would be outrageous and absurd. War, in essence, would be viewed as a failure and a shame to all involved.
Therefore, to answer the question "Should you share Sun Tzu's Art of War with others?", I emphatically say, "Yes!"
I have seen with my own eyes the positive difference it makes in people's lives. Sun Tzu students aren't only more empowered but they are empowering others. Through the use of logic and reason, they care about another person even if nobody else does. They are kind to others knowing that kindness doesn't diminish their power or strength, and often quite the reverse is true. There have been countless times I have observed people's eyes light up after reading Sun Tzu's Art of War but it's not surprising because that was how I was when I first read the book.
Alas, war hawks and chickenhawks who quote Sun Tzu almost always quote him incorrectly (misattributing the quote to Sun Tzu or misunderstanding the quote altogether) and have apparently not pondered beyond mere quotes. These are the people I want to reach out and educate, if it's not too late.
Educating others and learning from others about Sun Tzu's Art of War are so satisfying that I will continue what I'm doing. I hope you are benefiting from Sonshi, our Art of War book, and these blog entries. I hope you spread the word far and wide.
I will leave you today with a wonderful concluding sentence in Dr. Thomas Cleary's introduction, which so correctly and perceptively sums up why I continue to study Sun Tzu's Art of War after 30 years and what many of you might have already observed in your own study:
"Classics [like Sun Tzu's Art of War] may be interesting and even entertaining, but people always find they are not like books used for diversion, which give up all of their content at once; the classics seem to grow wiser as we grow wiser, more useful the more we use them." Thomas Cleary
Last week, S.A. Newman asked us, "What is the English translation of your cover photo?" What she was referring to is the white and green Chinese characters at the top of this webpage. I have re-created the same Chinese characters with the calligraphy brush, now in black and green, in the picture above this paragraph.
Both sets of Chinese characters are hand-written specifically for Sonshi because it is our main motto. The motto translated in English is, "We don't only show you how to read Sun Tzu's Art of War. We also show you how to apply Sun Tzu's Art of War."
How wonderful Ms. Newman asked that question because I didn't realize until now you might have been curious to know what those Chinese characters meant as well. Now you know. For those new here, the "four-leaf clover" icon is Sonshi's logo and the peace sign is based on our objective of world peace, in alignment with our recent acquisition of the domain name ☮️.com.
It is also wonderful she asked that question because it gives me an opportunity to discuss more about our motto and why it is we all read Sun Tzu's Art of War. The purpose of reading Sun Tzu's Art of War isn't simply to read it, even if we can memorize it backward and forward, but to receive some kind of useful benefit from it.
I believe our motto is important because it is a useful motto. It reminds you and me to keep using Sun Tzu's Art of War as it was intended to be used: not for entertainment although it might be enjoyable but for practical life application. The book wants to earn its keep and it's been doing that for 2500 years.
Epictetus used to admonish those who would brag about how they can expound the complicated verses of Chrysippus. But all he cared about was how they were able to translate those verses into favorable changes in their everyday behavior. An analogy he used was, "Don't show me your lifting weights. Show me your muscles." Meaning, don't show me all the books you own to impress me but let me see how those books helped you in your life. Let me see your behavior, your mindset, how you treat others.
Ultimately if there is no positive change in behavior then what good are books like Sun Tzu's Art of War? I hear some people use their The Art of War book as display. One can do whatever he or she chooses with his or her own money, but a value of a book should go well beyond its price, at least more than the price of a poster.
Therefore, a good scholar would not only be knowledgeable in the concepts of an important book like Sun Tzu's Art of War but also serve as a living example of how that book has helped him or her. It is just as important to be a practitioner of a philosophy book as it is to be a serious student of it. I would argue that both are one and the same.
As a student of Sun Tzu's Art of War, I strive to apply the book each and every day. To me, that's what being a student of The Art of War is. Due to its practical principles, it's not limited to a classroom but can be expanded to a way of life. It is too important and useful of a book.
Thus, strategy would be a way of life. Self-control would be a way of life. Leadership would be a way of life. Being thoughtful and patient but at the same time decisive and to act quickly with full force to defend or gain advantage. They are all behaviors that everyone can see whether or not a person is successfully applying the book. And when I say "everyone," I don't mean necessarily the general public who would read about it in a newspaper article but would include family members as well. Wisdom, like peace and charity, starts at home.
I know Sun Tzu's Art of War works because it has a positive effect in my own life. Better is my ability to control what I can control, how proactive I am, how I view problems and opportunities, my relationships with those around me, my performance of life's endeavors. It simply makes me want to go out there and share it with everyone I meet.
From my numerous interactions with others who have read and applied Sun Tzu's Art of War, their story invariably reflects mine. They also tend to express relief to finally meet someone like me they can talk to about Sun Tzu's Art of War. Of course I happily oblige because the feeling is mutual.
How wonderful there are people from all over the world using this ancient Chinese classic to help them prepare and overcome modern life challenges with aplomb. I know how they feel. The feeling is of great satisfaction, of not only being disciplined in our actions but also taking the initiative and influencing matters outside ourselves in more predictable ways.
Like all things in life, there are no guarantees beyond our own actions. There are many and unknown factors that can outweigh our efforts. However, to fully utilize what little we do have through strategy can often be sufficient in securing significant performance gains.
For example, the difference in the additional skill level of a superior athlete is relatively small in comparison to the difference in his or her gains, whether they be in putting up great stats or securing great trust from coaches and teammates. To be more specific, it is analogous to the difference between a baseball player batting .250 versus a player batting .300 -- a difference of 5%, or about one extra base hit every five games -- but in terms of salary and stardom, that difference is out of the ballpark.
And when it comes to war, every little difference in keeping safe the lives of our service men and women is immeasurable. Sun Tzu pushes military leaders to become better by raising the strategic bar they need to clear:
"The important thing in doing battle is victory, not protracted warfare. Therefore, a general who understands warfare is the guardian of people's lives, and the ruler of the nation's security." Sun Tzu
"The enlightened ruler is prudent, the good general is cautious. This is the Way of securing the nation, and preserving the army." Sun Tzu
This prudence is important. By disallowing missions that have low chances of success, it raises the overall chances of troops coming back to the barracks to fight another day. Prudence forces the military leadership to be more stringent in their willingness to send troops. It forces leaders to avoid keeping troops out for long if they are sent out. It forces them to work harder than any Marine or soldier sent out on the field because their strategy must be sound -- and that relies on nothing less than an extraordinary amount of investigation, creativity, and outright brilliance.
A sound strategy sets troops up for success. Once it is is executed, our troops would be like "boulders rolling down the hill," powerful, effortless, and unstoppable due to their positioning and momentum. The hard part of the entire endeavor is the strategic set up, which is the responsibility and duty of leadership. Leaders must not fail in this one critical task, or be faced with horrific consequences.
Speaking of horrific consequences, a prolonged campaign indicates the strategy is neither sound nor effective. In such a case, Sun Tzu would advise us to stop, regroup, and only move when an opportunity presents itself again:
"Move when advantageous, stop when not advantageous." Sun Tzu
What matters most to Sun Tzu is the result that is in the best interest of the nation. Everything else is details. In our case, it doesn't matter how much time we spent studying The Art of War. It matters that we understood the concepts correctly and then take the next step and apply them to our situation correctly.
So I urge you to go beyond reading Sun Tzu's Art of War. Reading isn't enough. Continue forward. Once your understanding is attained, take advantage of your newly gained knowledge and use it in your own life:
"I have heard of military campaigns that were clumsy but swift, but I have never seen military campaigns that were skilled but protracted." Sun Tzu
You might feel clumsy at first, but as Miyamoto Musashi would say, everything feels clumsy at first. But you must keep trying because your goal isn't to not feel clumsy but to make progress.
And no matter how clumsy you might feel, it is a better feeling than the feeling of failure, especially if the reason for that failure was due to your lack of preparation. You are better than that. You were born to accomplish great things. With more a higher, more stringent expectation of your performance, you can't help but prepare more. You work harder to create sound strategies, and thus be excited to take action on those strategies to achieve success.
Success might have begun with you reading Sun Tzu's writings in his 13 chapters, but it ends with you writing past those 13 chapters in your own life. Make your life's book an important and useful book, one that is always updated and improving. It would be like a great book that keeps on getting better.
How many times have you heard education is the answer to many of the world's problems? The reason why it is mentioned so many times is because, per the wisdom of the crowd, it's probably true.
However, since the world doesn't have an infinite amount of resources to pour into education, a better question we want to answer is what kind of education should we spend our time and money on? What subjects in school should we focus on beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic? As this is a website about Sun Tzu's Art of War, the answer seems apparent, but bear with me here while I explain myself in more detail.
A sad trend I've been noticing over the last decade is colleges are downsizing or even discontinuing their offerings in philosophy. In the drive to offer more practical career-oriented studies, cutting philosophy seems like an easy decision. But that would be a grave mistake.
The study of philosophy is the study of logic, among other things. And the last time I checked, business decisions still hinge on logic. Otherwise, if a company keeps making illogical decisions, it will not survive long-term.
Furthermore, given the rather poor decision making of corporations in the news, it would do them some good to hire more philosophy majors. As a nation, we spend so much on audits, regulation, and providing assurances on the backend -- all necessary, of course -- but we fail to spend as much on the prevention of fraud, incompetence, and misjudgments on the frontend. In other words, instead of striving to not make a mess in the first place, we rather be proficient at cleaning that mess later on.
Universities that choose to cut their philosophy departments are making the same illogical decision. Instead of making sure companies are happy with the workforce graduating from their institutions, maybe they should make sure their real customers, the students themselves, are happy after their graduation. Focusing on career-based subjects isn't a well-rounded education. A well-rounded education has to include philosophy, which enables people to think for themselves, not only in their pursuit of economic prosperity but also in their pursuit of personal happiness.
Speaking of happiness (or should I say the lack of happiness), another disturbing trend I see is so pervasive that it is called the crisis next door: the opioid epidemic. According to the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), over 300,000 Americans have died from it since 2000. The economic cost in one year is estimated to be over $500 billion, or 2.8 percent of the GDP. To put this into perspective, to remedy one problem, it is costing us more than the US government spends on all welfare assistance for over 50 million Americans.
The debate over what is causing this opioid crisis will continue but two causes seem to stand out the most: despair and availability.
Regarding despair, who cannot identify with despair? Whether it's social or financial despair, there are many who cannot manage the stress and pressure. I believe promoting philosophy in schools can be an answer to relieving much of that stress and pressure. In ancient times, Greek and Roman parents sent their aspiring young sons to philosophers teaching them how to handle everyday challenges. They focused on how to deal with strong emotions and presented strategies on how to subdue them. These young men would then be more prepared and able to take on roles of public service assigned to them.
For some reason, this practice of formally teaching children how to overcome emotions has gone away and this responsibility has largely been transferred to the parents. Sounds reasonable until you consider that in over 60 percent of American households, both parents work for a living. So the chances of their children receiving proper life instruction outside of their television or mobile phone screens seem worse than in ancient Rome or Greece.
Regarding availability, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated, "Sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, but there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain Americans report [emphasis added]." And according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), at least 20 percent of patients with opioid prescriptions abuse them.
Now imagine if we can have a marketing campaign on philosophy just as effective as the ones put out by pharmaceutical companies. Aimed at young and old alike, philosophy would be on the minds of people seeking a different way of living. Philosophy certainly doesn't numb the mind to make the pain go away but it does activate the mind to prevent someone from abusing (or possibly even using) drugs in the first place. Therefore, let's make learning philosophy available and accessible as much as drugs, and provide people with more options to manage life's problems.
Of course I have considered the real physical pains people deal with in my thoughts today. Prescriptions for physical pain relief, including depression, will always be needed. But the matter of abusing them is a psychological condition that philosophy is adeptly designed for.
I have also considered young people needing to go through the natural process of maturity. Overcoming emotions takes much practice and experience. There is no way around that. Young people will inevitably have to go through life's stages in order to mature. But by teaching them philosophy and thus presenting to them smart, effective methods on how to tackle everyday issues, such as strong emotions, they don't necessarily have to experience hardships to learn and grow. They would be more prepared, which increases their chances of success.
Likewise, the philosophy of Sun Tzu's Art of War with good guidance provides students, young and old, time-tested methods on how to handle everyday conflict, a source of pain for many people. By learning how to plan out a strategy to resolve differences that are causing that conflict, people have a better chance of making that pain go away. This kind of education promotes better relationships at home and at work. This kind of education promotes a society where more people are able to function and contribute to a greater good, as we were born to do.
Thank you for reading my blog today. I will see you again real soon.
Yesterday I discussed Sun Tzu's near obsession with the avoidance of anger in The Art of War such that it seems to indicate his own past problems with anger. This is similar to why veterans who have seen the horrors of war firsthand are usually the biggest doves. In every sense, I believe this is the admirable human drive for redemption.
Avoiding something isn't only a matter of being sick of something or having had too much of something, but is also coming to our senses and finally seeing a path that is closer to where we want to be. We can see the bigger picture of the world and it's clearer, too. This is the very process of learning and maturing.
To Sun Tzu, this accumulation of learning and maturing translates to practicality and effectiveness. It gives us strength, which in turn gives us the power to make things happen for ourselves and for the people around us. When someone has strength, he or she can't help but exude it. For example, Sun Tzu advised the military leader:
"Do not do battle with well ordered flags; do not do battle with well-regulated formations." Sun Tzu
Here, Sun Tzu is referring to the opposition's army strength indicated by its impressive well-ordered flags and well-regulated formations. A trained and disciplined army is a formidable army.
But sometimes, strength is much more subtle. It can even be the opposite of what people expect. An enemy's display of anger and aggression, for instance, seems to project strength but we know it's quite the contrary, as explained by Sun Tzu in Chapter Nine (Army Maneuvers):
"If he speaks belligerently and advances aggressively, he will retreat." Sun Tzu
Conversely, if the opposition is calm, it doesn't mean he or she is weak but in actuality might be in a position of great strength (also found in Chapter Nine):
"If the enemy is close and remains quiet, he occupies a natural stronghold." Sun Tzu
And right between the two verses described above from Chapter Nine, Sun Tzu speaks about humbleness:
"If he speaks humbly, but increases warfare readiness, he will advance." Sun Tzu
Humbleness, like calmness, indicates someone being in control and not in a state of extreme emotion. Humbleness prevents someone from making rash decisions. He or she is cautious and prudent.
Being cautious and prudent is a mindset prized by Sun Tzu because the chances of making a costly mistake in war are greatly reduced. Since this mindset is from the objective of defense, one can achieve invincibility:
"Those skilled in warfare can make themselves invincible, but cannot necessarily cause the enemy to be vulnerable. Therefore it is said one may know how to win but cannot necessarily do it." Sun Tzu
Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching states that skilled warriors are so averse to making mistakes that "their wariness was as that of one crossing a river in winter; their caution was as that of one in fear of all around." This approach preserves our strength, especially in war and conflicts where one bad move can jeopardize people's lives and livelihoods.
Because Sun Tzu believes humbleness is a trait of strength, he even feels the need to convert the opposition's emotional state from being humble to being arrogant in order to shift the balance of power:
"If they are humble, make them haughty; if they are relaxed, toil them; if they are united, separate them." Sun Tzu
It is apparent here that Sun Tzu is trying to move the enemy from a position of strength to a position of weakness: from humbleness to arrogance, from relaxation to exhaustion, from unity to separation.
Further corroboration of the value of humbleness can be found in the following story from The Masters of Huainan (literally The Writings of the Masters South of the Huai, otherwise known as Huainanzi):
When the state of Jin marched on the state of Chu, the grandees of Chu asked the king to attack, but the king said, “Jin did not attack us during the reign of our former king; now that Jin is attacking us during my reign, it must be my fault. What can be done for this disgrace?”
The Jin army invaders above didn't retreat only because of an ideal or morality. They retreated also for pragmatic purposes because they suddenly became aware of the strong leadership present in the state of Chu, as evidenced by all the leaders' exemplary humbleness. It was obvious to them that Chu's leaders must be of sound mind; they can see reality clearly. Ultimately, it means Chu is capable of creating sound strategies appropriate to successfully defend Jin's attack. Thus, Jin made the right decision to go back home.
If Jin didn't have the wisdom to determine Chu's true strength and instead attack and somehow manage to occupy Chu, it would still be at a tremendous cost. The Masters of Huainan states:
The Martial Lord of Wei asked one of his ministers what had caused the destruction of a certain nation-state. The minister said, “Repeated victories in repeated wars.”
This is exactly why Sun Tzu said the highest excellence isn't winning 100 battles but to win without fighting at all. The goal isn't to simply win battles because battles are costly. In business terms, battles produce a poor return for our investment. The Tao Te Ching puts it more dramatically: "When you win a war, you celebrate by mourning."
Sun Tzu's aim is to prevail with All-Under-Heaven intact, especially since losses of our enemy don't always translate to gains on our side. This is true victory. Sun Tzu's aim, as confirmed by The Masters of Huainan story above, prevents not only the unnecessary destruction of our enemy but also the weakening and erosion of ourselves.
One way we can gain consistently is to learn from our past mistakes because we would prevent future losses. To act like this, like how the king and ministers of Chu acted, we must remove our enlarged ego that has been obstructing our view of the world that is much bigger and clearer than we think it is. Without seeing the possibility of our fallibility, we won't have the foresight to actively solve problems when they are still small and manageable.
In essence, being humble is a redeeming quality that makes us want to change our behavior for the better. And if we can improve on our behavior, we can become stronger and become capable in both defense and attack. We would have no enemies under Heaven, balance would be restored, and everyone can go home in peace. This is the world in its natural calm and humble state.
On the subject of war, it is no surprise that Sun Tzu warned us about the dangerous consequences of anger. In fact, Sun Tzu seems so troubled by anger that he mentions it throughout The Art of War:
"If they are angry, disturb them" (Chapter One)
"If the general cannot control his temper and sends troops to swarm the walls, one third of them will be killed, and the city will still not be taken. This is the kind of calamity when laying siege to a walled city." (Chapter Three)
"He who is quick tempered can be insulted." (Chapter Eight)
"If he gives out punishments frequently, he is dire straits. If he is brutal at first, and then fears the masses, he is the extreme of ineptitude." (Chapter Nine)
"If the officers are angry and insubordinate, doing battle with the enemy under anger and insubordination, and the general does not know their abilities, this is called collapse." (Chapter Ten)
"The ruler may not move his army out of anger; the general may not do battle out of wrath." Sun Tzu (Chapter Twelve)
"Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life." (Chapter Twelve)
What can we take away from Sun Tzu's emphasis on anger?
First, it would seem Sun Tzu believes that anger is a powerful emotion. If anger wasn't a common problem for leaders, he wouldn't mention it at all. But since he mentioned anger numerous times, we can surmise Sun Tzu had personally seen the devastation that it has caused. I can't help but think it is personal to Sun Tzu because he had made tragic mistakes due to his own unsuccessful battles with anger in the past.
Second, Sun Tzu believes that anger is temporary. To make decisions that are permanent for a temporary condition isn't very wise. Thus, he reminds us over and over to be cautious and prudent. There is no need to rush. Whatever gains we might have missed will come back again, but what we would lose due to anger will never come back.
Third, by paying attention to our current emotional state and the emotional states of others, Sun Tzu shows us that we can minimize anger's effects and even control and benefit from it:
"Killing the enemy is a matter of arousing anger in men; taking the enemy's wealth is a matter of reward. Therefore, in chariot battles, reward the first to capture at least ten chariots." (Chapter Two)
"If his troops confront you with anger, but do not do battle or leave their position, he must be investigated." (Chapter Nine)
"Adaptations to the nine grounds, the advantages in defensive and offensive maneuvers, and the patterns of human emotions must be examined." (Chapter Eleven)
Instead of being angry, how can one behave? In addition to being "wise, trustworthy, benevolent, brave, and disciplined," Sun Tzu defined further the traits that combat anger:
"It is important for a general to be calm and remote, upright and disciplined." (Chapter Eleven)
But of course this is easier said than done! What is unrealistic is believing you cannot ever feel angry. Even sages feel anger at times. The difference, however, is how quickly and effectively someone defeats anger when it appears.
Sages are like Sun Tzu when it comes to dealing with extreme emotions. They take on these enemies with great seriousness. And it is all-out war with menacing emotions like anger. As Sun Tzu said, we cannot depend on the enemy never attacking us but for us to always be prepared for its attack at any time. One such sage is Plato. Below Seneca the Younger recounted how Plato handled one bout of anger:
"Plato, when angry with his slave, could not prevail upon himself to wait, but straightway ordered him to take off his shirt and present his shoulders to the blows which he meant to give him with his own hand: then, when he perceived that he was angry, he stopped the hand which he had raised in the air, and stood like one in act to strike. Being asked by a friend who happened to come in, what he was doing, he answered: 'I am making an angry man expiate his crime.' He retained the posture of one about to give way to passion, as if struck with astonishment at its being so degrading to a philosopher, forgetting the slave, because he had found another still more deserving of punishment. He therefore denied himself the exercise of authority over his own household, and once, being rather angry at some fault, said, 'Speusippus, will you please to correct that slave with stripes; for I am in a rage.' He would not strike him, for the very reason for which another man would have struck him. 'I am in a rage,' said he; 'I should beat him more than I ought: I should take more pleasure than I ought in doing so: let not that slave fall into the power of one who is not in his own power.'"
As you see from the story above, the great Plato, author of the masterpiece The Republic, was almost defeated by anger. It took a simple but uncommon act of paying attention to his condition that he recused himself from the situation and asked his friend Speusippus for his assistance. He was capable of being aware of his incapability.
Sun Tzu was also aware of his incapability when facing a walled city. Anger is like conquering a walled city. It is formidable. Underestimate and take it for granted at your own peril.
But anger can be conquered. In order to take on anger, like in a walled the city, we must muster up enough strength. Sun Tzu advised us to take the time and diligence to build strength:
"Laying siege to a city is only done when other options are not available. To build protective shields, armored wagons, and make ready other arms and equipment will require at least three months. To build earthen mounds against the walls will require another three months." (Chapter Three)
Being strategic like Sun Tzu, we too can utilize time to conquer anger. Count to ten. Sleep on it. Keep busy doing something productive, such as cleaning the house. Listen to music. Do whatever it takes to divert your mind away from the matter at hand when you find anger getting an upper hand. Time can serve as a valuable ally. Sun Tzu knew the importance of timing in success, and we can all learn from that.
Let's not forget about diligence. A wise person can consistently defeat anger because he or she had plenty of practice, having underwent a "winter's training" as Epictetus would say.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that Sun Tzu has the wisdom to warn us about anger not because he never felt anger in his life. He likely made horrible mistakes due to anger and had profoundly learned from them. What is more important was his diligence in making sure not to make the same mistakes again.
The Art of War translator Dr. Thomas Cleary tells a story about a samurai candidate up for a promotion and the elders of the clan were discussing among themselves whether it would be a wise decision to promote him. One elder reminds the group that this particular samurai made a bad mistake in the past, and it would be dangerous to promote him. But another elder responded by saying what is truly dangerous is a warrior who never made a bad mistake and is due to make one in the future.
Therefore, don't let the past hinder your future progress. Be cautious and prudent but be not afraid to survey a difficult problem -- push forward to build strength by putting in the hard work to create a sound strategy to match.
Building strength is a virtuous cycle if you decide to not let strong emotions like anger overpower you. You know anger's weakness of being temporary, and so you can employ time to vanquish it. I hope in its place you then have more time and space for tranquility, even joy. And what a joy it is for you to be here with me today at Sonshi.com. I appreciate your stopping by and learning along with me Sun Tzu's wisdom.
You can learn more about anger at GeniusOfLove.org.
Today I was reading an Art of War edition written and interpreted by Chinese general Tao Hanzhang. He was the chief of staff of the army during the Chinese Civil War and later served as provost in the North China Military and Political College. He was also an adviser at the Beijing Institute for International Strategic Studies. He was both a soldier and an academic, a rare and wonderful combination.
Because he wrote about and taught Sun Tzu's Art of War, you would be correct to think Gen. Tao views Sun Tzu favorably. His book offers numerous accounts from Chinese history to support his arguments. I say arguments not in the sense they were controversial -- his interpretations were grounded, perhaps even mundane -- but rather they are those from a hardened individual who was a product of his specific time and place.
For example, although Gen. Tao was an ardent supporter of Sun Tzu and his wisdom, which he demonstrated throughout much of the book, he did manage to offer a few critiques. One was how he thought Sun Tzu seemed to look down upon laboring people when Sun Tzu said to kick away the ladder behind soldiers and to move them to and fro like a shepherd herding sheep.
In his second critique Gen. Tao concluded that Sun Tzu's principle, "There are occasions when the commands of the sovereign need not be obeyed" is obsolete. He argued that since war is a part of politics, "[this principle] often causes irremediable damage to the nation if long-term and overall interests of the state are given up for the sake of local interests in the battlefield."
It would seem Gen. Tao was trying to balance his admiration for Sun Tzu with a rather brief, almost half-hearted attempt to appear less zealous. I respect that attempt, but they don't hold up when we consider three concepts from The Art of War itself.
First, in Chapter One, Sun Tzu right off the bat mentions the Tao or the Way, where the general and the people are aligned. The interests of the people are what gives someone political power. So if both the general and the people are aligned, it would only mean the ruler would be out of touch if he and the general disagree. If the ruler is out of touch, then his commands can, should, and must be ignored. What happened to the Jewish people in Europe during World War II is one devastating example.
Second, in Chapter Three, Sun Tzu explained at relative length how a ruler who erroneously administers the army like he administers civil matters can bring trouble and disaster onto the battlefield. When this happens, how could this possibility serve the nation well in the long-term? Today, over 60 years later, the Vietnam War is a disturbing reminder of this failure for not only the 58,220 American soldiers who died fighting far away from their homes but also the uncountable millions of Vietnamese who perished on both sides.
Third, in Chapter Twelve, Sun Tzu speaks to the possibility that leaders themselves can make horrendous, irreversible mistakes. Sun Tzu was obsessed with being cautious when wielding the instruments of warfare, and for good reason:
"The ruler may not move his army out of anger; the general may not do battle out of wrath. If it is advantageous, move; if it is not advantageous, stop. Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life." Sun Tzu
Therefore, what is truly obsolete is the notion that a leader's decision is infallible, like it comes from the Heavens, such that others, like a military general, cannot help but obey.
However, from Sun Tzu's perspective, the military leader's job is just as crucial, if not more so, because in his hands are the lives of hundreds of thousands. And in modern times, it has meant the lives of millions.
"The general who does not advance to seek glory, or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people's security and promotes the people's interests, is the nation's treasure." Sun Tzu
As such, it is the duty of the upright military general to convince and persuade the civilian leader, and only failing that, to disobey in its execution for the benefit of the nation. The former is the preferred objective, and the latter is the deliberate choice between a rock and a hard place.
Let's now take a look at the verse in Chapter One where Sun Tzu mentions if the general follows his principles and applies them, he will prevail so keep him, and if not, dismiss him. Because of the arrangement of the Chinese characters, another plausible translation of that verse is if the ruler follows his principles and applies them, he will stay, and if not, he will leave. "He" leaving or staying here is Sun Tzu himself!
Some translators and commentators are so taken aback by Sun Tzu's impudence here that they believe this can't be possible. However, from my analysis of Sun Tzu's character, his integrity, confidence, and strength are beyond reproach, and so I believe his bold stance is indeed a possibility -- especially for a general who would have the fortitude to disobey a ruler's command.
Interestingly enough, if the ruler and the general don't see eye to eye in the first place, a general like Sun Tzu would not be around to assist in the ruler's objectives, much less be around to disobey commands. In this situation, it would seem leaders aren't put in leadership positions, and so what you have is a situation that lacks leadership. What you have is a bunch of yes-people incapable of thinking for themselves. Have you ever experienced that in the corporate world?
Furthermore, Sun Tzu disobeying an order isn't about being audacious or even about being "right," but about fervently subscribing to wisdom and sound judgement. He believes that an order that lacks reason, and thus does great harm to others, is an order to be ignored.
Imagine how beneficial it is in our society to have wise and thinking people in leadership positions who can determine the fate of so many. They would be a treasure worth keeping. We would want them to stay.
"Barn's burnt down --
Masahide's quote above captures well the idea of optimism. It is being positive even when there are things to be negative about. It isn't ignoring reality but focusing on the possibility, no matter how small, because nobody knows what the future holds. In short, it's very much the act of living, and that is to choose our path instead of allowing outside forces to choose it for us.
One reason why I am always enthusiastic about Sun Tzu and his wisdom is that I am by nature optimistic. Perhaps it's reading too many Zig Ziglar books growing up. Whatever the case, I tend to be confident and hopeful that things will work out in the future. When I am armed with Sun Tzu's practical strategies, I have a more tangible reason to be confident and hopeful.
Since youth, my confidence and hope depended upon a tremendous amount of preparation. In school, I wanted a deadline date that is far off, not because I wanted to wait, but I wanted to have more time refining and perfecting my work before the teacher sees it. Needless to say, the grades I received would make any Asian parent happy. Maybe.
There were numerous instances when I would forget to eat and lose track of time completely. That continues to this day. Part of that is because I enjoy working, and part of that is because I want the satisfaction of achieving something outstanding. Overall, the harder I work, the more confident and hopeful I get.
Going back to the quote above, Mizuta Masahide had every right to feel discouraged after his barn burned down. But as a warrior, he understood that strength lies not in things but in people, namely within himself. To still not forget our heavenly gift despite misfortune is analogous to maintaining a small beachhead despite an enemy attack to later build upon. With time and diligence, one can imagine the progress that can be made from a seemingly humble beginning.
With optimism, we give it the old college try against the odds. And should we fail, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, "at least [we fail] while daring greatly, so that [our] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Too often what we call realistic or reasonable is really our doubt taking hold. In much of life, especially with many people involved, there are simply too many variables to account to truly determine failure or success in the future. And so logically we choose not to make a decision at all. Doubt causes us to stop working. And stop working is something I can't imagine myself doing.
Of course Masahide isn't the only warrior who's optimistic. I would argue there is another warrior with plenty of optimism, even in the midst of considerable danger and concern:
"The day the general leads his troops into battle, it is like climbing up high and throwing away the ladder. He leads his troops deep into enemy ground, and releases the trigger. He burns his boats and destroys the cooking pots." Sun Tzu
Or how about this one:
"Get them to face danger, but do not reveal the advantages. Throw them into danger and they will survive; put them on deadly ground and they will live. Only if the troops are in situations of danger will they turn defeat into victory." Sun Tzu
What gives Sun Tzu such confidence and hope that his soldiers will survive and achieve victory? It could be based on past experience. But it is more to do with knowing his army, the enemy's army, and the environment they engage in.
Sun Tzu's thorough preparation allows him to place his soldiers in the best possible advantageous position to achieve success. Business leaders can learn from this lesson. If they aren't constantly setting the stage for their team to do great work, then they aren't doing their jobs.
Notice Sun Tzu doesn't depend on superstars to produce the results he seeks. He depended upon rather ordinary soldiers to produce extraordinary results, thanks to the strategy he conceived. Strategy leverages limited resources and enables the leader to calculate if they are sufficient for success.
However, as much as Sun Tzu emphasized doing many calculations and ensuring no miscalculations are made to make certain of victory, it would seem implausible he wasn't at all concerned about how the battle would turn out. Leaders who treat their people like their own beloved children would always be concerned, no matter how certain they feel. So without optimism, and letting doubts set in, Sun Tzu couldn't logically "release the trigger." He would pack his bags and go home. Yet he stayed and pushed his troops forward.
Furthermore, if we believe Sun Tzu lived in the real world, we would also have to believe he knew there are no guarantees in life. Except death and taxes. But victory isn't one of them. Anything that can happen might (or will) happen. Failing to calculate an unknown factor is a possibility. That factor contributing to defeat is a possibility. Sound strategy can only assure our success in the long run; the chances of making costly mistakes in the short-term, in one battle, are significantly greater.
Yet throughout The Art of War, Sun Tzu expresses complete certainty:
"No miscalculations mean the victories are certain, achieving victory over those who have already lost." Sun Tzu
"I know who will win and who will lose. A general who listens to my principles, and applies them, will surely be victorious; keep him. A general who does not listen to my principles, and does not apply them, will surely be defeated; remove him." Sun Tzu
How could that be if Sun Tzu was a realist, never mind a pessimist? He would use more moderating words. It simply doesn't make sense -- unless Sun Tzu was indeed an optimist.
Therefore, Sun Tzu's principles don't run counter to optimism -- they run beside and parallel to it. They complement it.
This complementary mix then demands that along with our optimism we must do the hard work to plan and prepare. Things will likely go well but there will be unforeseen setbacks, which we will learn from as we move forward. No matter what, we must not stop being proactive.
So if we continue on our mission, our gains will outnumber our losses. In baseball as in life, going home most of the time would be considered an extraordinary accomplishment. And in warfare as in life, going home at all would be considered an even greater accomplishment.
"One who is skilled in warfare principles subdues the enemy without doing battle, takes the enemy's walled city without attacking, and overthrows the enemy quickly, without protracted warfare. His aim must be to take All-Under-Heaven intact." Sun Tzu
Was Sun Tzu a pacifist? The likely answer is more nuanced, and would depend on what the exact definition of "pacifist" is.
So let's start with a definition of pacifist: holding the belief that war and violence are unjustifiable.
If that is the definition then Sun Tzu straight away isn't a pacifist. Although his goal is to win without fighting, he has explained in several chapters on what to do in times of battle. To Sun Tzu, war isn't the only response, not even a preferred response, but it is a cautious and begrudging option. Thus, he certainly believes that war at times is justifiable.
Yet Sun Tzu was no war monger. The overall impression of The Art of War is a guide of what to do when provoked or in danger. It isn't a book about using war for gratuitous gain. In the very first verse, Sun Tzu said, "[War] is the way to survival or to destruction," which strongly suggests a defensive objective due to an aggressive enemy.
What might confuse some Sun Tzu students is that although the objective is to defend and preserve, Sun Tzu's strategies call for the leader to be extremely proactive, to take the initiative, and be very much on the offense. To quote an old cliche -- the best defense is a good offense -- would be appropriate here. Anybody who has ever implemented this strategy, or be on the other side, would know how effective it truly is.
Epictetus, a philosopher of the highest order, states that it would be shameful that a person doesn't attack an enemy approaching. An image he gives is a bull rushing toward an attacking lion to defend his herd. The bull somehow understands his capability as well as his duty.
Likewise, for an individual, he or she must have the capability and the gumption to attack in order to defend in times of need. This doesn't happen overnight. It takes a winter's training and the confidence to take action. Those who cannot are not only incapable of harming, but also incapable of helping.
Therefore, an effective leader isn't only someone who is kind but also has the ability to protect, promote, and make things happen. Do not be like those who are only strong in good times but wither in bad times. Anybody can do that.
Leaders are strong at all times because they understand nothing stops their noble response and noble behavior, even during great hardship or abundance, when the average person would be discouraged or arrogant. Thus perhaps it would not be helpful to label anyone a pacifist or a war hawk but rather see how he or she acts in times of trouble and success.
For years I have expounded that Sun Tzu's Art of War is really the Art of Peace. They are one and the same. Why? Because conflict, disagreements, and yes, even fighting are a part of life. To be able to handle them with aplomb is what a person needs to truly practice the Art of Peace.
This is analogous to a doctor who specializes in cancer treatment. Nobody can claim he or she promotes cancer just because he or she writes about cancer. That is exactly Sun Tzu's situation when it comes to warfare.
You don't want to go to people who merely speak of peace all the time. They tend to have a habit of avoiding conflicts instead of bravely facing them and gaining the hard but beneficial experience of resolving them. Instead, you want to go to a person who has vast experience in solving real-life problems and asking him or her how he or she did it.
Practical wisdom that Sun Tzu offers takes on reality instead of only focusing on the ideal. One cannot reach the ideal without first fixing what needs fixing. It takes great courage. I believe such high level of courage originates from a high source, which interestingly enough, is present in your heart and mind since the moment you were born.
Take a look at the two ancient Chinese characters at the top of today's blog entry. They represent "Sun Tzu." You can clearly see two individuals reaching up to the heavens. The first character shows a person reaching up to the heavens holding a weapon. The second character shows a person reaching up to the heavens without a weapon. They are in war and in peace, yet both characters exude benevolence.
Now take a look at the peace symbol, ☮. It is a symbol of significant importance, an ideal that's in alignment with Sun Tzu. That's why we acquired the domain name ☮.com. Gerald Holtom, the creator of ☮, later in life wanted the symbol inverted. To him, it is a more uplifting symbol, a symbol of hope and triumph.
This is very interesting, since an inverted ☮ looks very much like the image found in the two ancient Chinese characters of Sun Tzu. Is this not a divine revelation? Perhaps.
In every matter, you can strive to seek out the divine path, because the divine path is the wisest path. It would click. It is where epiphanies come from. It is what sound strategies are made of. It is acting with great wisdom -- whether in war or in peace -- where everyone around you would all be better off because you exist in the world.
General Samuel Griffith recounted in his Art of War book published in 1963 the story of Minamoto Yoshitsune, a famed strategist and military commander from 12th century AD Japan:
Even at the age of eleven Minamoto Yoshitsune made a vow to restore his clan to its former exalted position. The monks entrusted with his education found this youth 'a listless and unpromising pupil when they tried to drill him in the Sutras.' The abbot discovered that there was 'only one way of keeping him out of mischief and this was to read Sonshi [Sun Tzu], the great Chinese military classic, and such works to him. Then he was all attention.'
Griffith's mention of Sonshi in his book was how Sonshi.com got its name. Much like young Minamoto Yoshitsune's experience, the words that Sun Tzu wrote eventually resonated with me so completely that I wanted to go out and share my enthusiasm with everyone through my own writing on the World Wide Web back in 1999.
My writing on the Web later led to a book. As mentioned in the last blog post, Sonshi.com celebrated the 10th anniversary of our Art of War book, "The Art of War -- Spirituality for Conflict" published on March 1, 2008.
During its production, I can still remember my editor Mark Ogilbee telling me the publisher reviewed my writing and was impressed by it. That apparently was a huge compliment since (1) he knows many outstanding authors and (2) he was rather stoic, not the sort of person who praises others.
Frankly, I never thought my writing to be all that great. My secret is simply I write as I speak in business: to be clear and to be understood easily. Miscommunication causes many problems and I want to prevent them as much as possible.
I'll let you in on another secret. When I was a freshman at the University of Washington in Seattle, my writing was so bad that the professor had to sit me down and explain to me basic grammar rules.
It wasn't always like that though. As far back as elementary school, I was writing full stories. I loved to write. However, as I grew up, I wrote significantly less. Other things were of greater concern. Like cars and girls. So the less I wrote, the worse I got.
Fortunately, as I progressed in college, I wrote more. Pretty soon I was back on track. After graduation, it was on to working in companies and communicating clearly via memos and emails. There was no excuse for not being professional because the efficiency and effectiveness of projects depended upon it.
Nowadays, I write because I want to share with others my experiences, not necessarily to get things done. I want to share with you what I saw or learned. That means, then, that I must possess experience or knowledge worth sharing with you, even if it's only for entertainment value. At the very least, it forces me to constantly step out of my comfort zone.
Therefore, if I stop writing, I have stopped learning, improving, appreciating. That's just not me. It's not the life I want to lead, either for myself or for others. My goal is to write such that even a listless Minamoto Yoshitsune (like me) would be "all attention." That was the skill of Sun Tzu's writing.
So I will strive and continue to write, hopefully as often as I can.
"A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song." Chinese proverb
Happy Chinese New Year! (新年快乐 xin nian kuai le!)
For the last few weeks I visited my family in Guilin, China. "Gui" (桂) means sweet osmanthus and "Lin" (林) means forest. The beauty of the area -- from its karst topography to its bamboo groves -- cannot be overstated as exemplified by the two quotes below:
"I often sent pictures of the hills of Guilin which I painted to friends back home, but few believed what they saw." Fan Chengda (Chinese Song Dynasty scholar)
"Guilin's landscape is the best among all under heaven." (桂林山水甲天下) Popular Chinese saying
Guilin in the city is surprisingly like Shanghai or Beijing. The people are industrious. The lone Guilin noodle shop that was opened during New Year's Day ended up being my favorite. (Businesses usually close for six to eight days after New Year.) There were many more popular noodle places but this particular humble shop run by a husband and wife team had the best noodles in terms of flavor.
For my birthday, we went to a restaurant known to the locals as having the best chicken dishes. They did! In fact, it might very well be the best chicken dinner I ever had in my life. Everything they offered was spectacular. Whatever decor they lacked, they more than made up for it in food quality. Our other option was to go to a fancy hotel restaurant but the food would certainly not be as good.
Therefore, no matter the appearances, being truly exceptional will always be in style. A business can copy what everyone else is doing or it can ignore the norm and the generally accepted rules and be vastly better.
Such excellence is rare, of course. For every Sun Tzu, there are countless leaders who aren't really leaders at all. They follow policies blindly without ever thinking about the overall goal and purpose. Or simply put, they don't think.
In contrast, Sun Tzu said:
"Give out rewards transcending law, give out commands transcending policy."
Sun Tzu and students of Sun Tzu understand that doing the right thing is always better than doing things right.
China's social and economic progress is clear. There is no turning back. America isn't the only game in town anymore, even in Silicon Valley, the last leg of my trip. My only hope is that, like Messi and Ronaldo, both will raise each other's game as allies and competitors. They don't have to be enemies, especially if both are strong.
Like in a superior army, strength isn't always about sheer quantities but in the soundness of its strategy, whether it can endure through stresses and challenges for decades to come. If it must be the case, let our appearances be worse than what is truly underneath and not the other way around. As individuals, we can learn the same lesson on strength.
On March 1, 2018, Sonshi.com celebrated the 10th anniversary of our Art of War book published on March 1, 2008. It is also this year that we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our Art of War translation completed in 1998.
"The leader is wise, trustworthy, benevolent, brave, and disciplined ... the enlightened ruler is prudent, the good general is cautious. This is the Way of securing the nation, and preserving the army." Sun Tzu
Yesterday, while I was thinking hard about an important matter, I was putting away leftover food after dinner. So my mind wasn't on the food. As a result, chicken and vegetables fell out haphazardly as I was transferring them from the large steel pot to a small glass container. Instead of the food inside the container, it was all over the kitchen counter. The more I messed up, the more perturbed I was. And the more perturbed I was, the bigger the mess became. It was a scene of folly for this Sun Tzu student.
"An army does not have constant force or have constant formation. Those who are able to adapt and change in accord with the enemy and achieve victory are called divine." Sun Tzu
I took it for granted that I could do a simple task such that I failed miserably at it. There were only a few effective ways, ways I call the narrow divine paths, but I veered away from all those paths because I was distracted.
Therefore, to do things well, it takes this one thing to succeed at whatever we do. What is this one thing? It is our ability to think. As much as I love sports, as human beings, our strength in the animal kingdom isn't our physical attributes but our mental ones.
For example, Usain Bolt for the longest time was considered the fastest man on earth. He has many fans. But most house cats can outrun Usain Bolt. Perhaps that's why we are also fans of cats.
"Is there nothing in a person analogous to a race in horses, by which it may be decided which is better or worse? Is there not honor, fidelity, justice? Show yourself the better in these, that you may be the better as a person. But if you only tell me that you can kick violently, I will tell you again that you value yourself on what is the property of an ass." Epictetus
From playing the violin to doing accounting work, you cannot force your way into accomplishment. It takes knowledge, patience, awareness, and focus. Even in activities such as football, weightlifting, and boxing, without having the mental wherewithal, one cannot achieve his or her physical aim.
Is it any coincidence that in human biology, although the brain expends an inordinate amount of energy, it is the last part of the body to shut down if food were scarce (or fallen off onto the kitchen counter)? Our body knows that our mental capability increases our chances of survival more than other capability. Sun Tzu knows this, too:
"Do not advance on any fixed day or time; calculate and adapt to the enemy to determine the matter of doing battle." Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu knows that every situation is different, even though we might assume it is the same as in the past. When we are lulled into thinking we have mastered something, we open ourselves to the possibility of failure. Failure itself usually isn't too bad, but when it is preventable, it can be.
In the Bible, the military leader Gideon picked his soldiers by how they drank water when they are extremely thirsty. He chose men who drank but still kept their heads up to maintain their awareness of the surrounding; they understood and took seriously their task to protect the nation no matter the hardship or distraction. Gideon sent home the ones who simply drank water, those who lost track of their one job.
Similarly, whether in simple or complex tasks, you must pay attention to and think about what is before you. By doing so, you can complete it quickly and efficiently, allowing you to turn to other important tasks.
Any automaton can follow orders or repeat past steps over and over but only a thinking person can choose to evaluate what is different about the situation this time around -- and it is always different from the last time -- to gain an advantage over the competition. This is also the divine path to self-improvement, which I hope is a more narrow path than any opponent's.
To be human is to think. To be humane is to think even harder and choosing your own path because you have a deep understanding that it is the right thing to do. That, my friends, is what makes a person superior.
Today I encountered a passage from a common but inferior Art of War translation that said, "Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him."
The passage can be found in Chapter One, Calculations with the Chinese text 利而誘之，亂而取之. I translated it as, "If they seek advantage, bait them; if they are in chaos, capture them."
I have bolded the specific sentence in question above. One can also translate it as "take" them or even "invade" them, but "crush" them is careless and misleading. It seems like a small difference but it is not. It is a chasm. It is like hearing the commander say, "Seize this city" and interpreting it as "Destroy this city."
The accuracy of a sentence's translation is one important consideration, but let's also look at that sentence's alignment with Sun Tzu's key principles. If you consider the overall context of The Art of War, the book's advice is clear. Below are five examples of passages that run counter to "crush him":
(1) "Generally in warfare, keeping a nation intact is best, destroying a nation second best; keeping an army intact is best, destroying an army second best; keeping a battalion intact is best, destroying a battalion second best; keeping a company intact is best, destroying a company second best; keeping a squad intact is best, destroying a squad second best." Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu prefers preservation of gains over crushing anybody or anything and losing those gains. Thus, if the enemy is in chaos and you have the initiative, why would you want to crush him when you can leave him whole?
(2) "If ten times the enemy's strength, surround them ... Do not thwart an enemy retreating home. If you surround the enemy, leave an outlet; do not press an enemy that is cornered. These are the principles of warfare." Sun Tzu
When the enemy is in chaos, it is in a disadvantaged and weak position. In contrast, we are in an advantaged and strong position. As Sun Tzu advised above, the wise move would not be to "crush him," but to surround him. The enemy poses no threat and we are vastly superior. So it makes sense we would leave an outlet so they can retreat home. This is analogous to a caring big brother holding off his sibling versus a mean bully pursuing his victim. Sun Tzu tops off this passage by saying it is a principle of war.
(3) "One who is skilled in warfare principles subdues the enemy without doing battle, takes the enemy's walled city without attacking, and overthrows the enemy quickly, without protracted warfare. His aim must be to take All-Under-Heaven intact. Therefore, weapons will not be blunted, and gains will be intact. These are the principles of planning attacks." Sun Tzu
The benefit of receiving Sun Tzu's instruction is to be a wise leader in situations of emotional conflict. We want to become skilled, controlled, and competent. As such, our goal as mentioned above is to "take All-Under-Heaven intact." Similar to our previous example, Sun Tzu ended the verse by stating it is a principle of planning attacks. According to Sun Tzu, one would never want to plan to crush the enemy. That would be when there is a breakdown in the execution of our aim, something we would not want to happen, much less plan for.
(4) "Replace the enemy's flags and standards with our own. Mix the captured chariots with our own and treat the captured soldiers well. This is called defeating the enemy and increasing our strength." Sun Tzu
The quote above is hardly from a person who would promote crushing an enemy. It would seem he wants to not only capture the enemy unharmed but also try to incorporate them into his own forces. Again, the difference in the two ideas is vast.
And last, this is one of my most favorite quotes in The Art of War:
(5) "Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life. Therefore, the enlightened ruler is prudent, the good general is cautious. This is the Way of securing the nation, and preserving the army." Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu was a man of great compassion, because he was a man of great strength and wisdom. He understood the objective isn't to "crush" or destroy the opponent but to quickly achieve equilibrium. His desire seems focused on treading lightly, doing as little harm as possible, and return things back to normal again. In other words, war isn't normal. Peace is normal.
Critics will say this sort of peace is only temporary. But everything is temporary. In a changing world, nothing is ever permanent. Sun Tzu had the ability to handle war and conflict with aplomb. Therefore, it is better for him to establish peace right now when violence has broken out than to achieve an idealized permanent peace later on. Along those same lines, it is better to start building bridges and wait to be able to complete it in the future -- Sun Tzu's concept of timing -- than to induce, continue, or exacerbate hatred now and crush any hope of success in the future.
It is amazing how many people know about Sun Tzu's Art of War. I would say that almost anybody who has been educated has at least heard of the book, not only in China but all around the world.
However, as ubiquitous as Sun Tzu's Art of War is, that doesn't necessarily mean its understanding is ubiquitous. Because of its title, people's perception of The Art of War is sometimes far off from reality, especially when they haven't read the book. There are too many misperceptions to explain fully in one blog entry -- perhaps this topic will become a series -- so today I would like to focus on just one. Let me start with the following quote from Chapter One, Calculations:
"If able, appear unable; if active, appear inactive; if near, appear far; if far, appear near." Sun Tzu
If one were to not read the above quote carefully, he or she would think it is fine to be unable and appear to be able. Unfortunately this runs counter to Sun Tzu's principles. He stresses the importance of defense and achieving invincibility first and only then would the leader consider an attack. He or she must be completely prepared at all times in an anticipation of an enemy attack. Therefore, if you are unable, this would spell trouble.
Furthermore, you would never engage in battle unless you are 100 percent capable of winning that battle. You would want to control that variable completely, and not allow the opponent to control it. If you are unable, you are putting yourself at risk unnecessarily, trying to bluff your way into a victory. Sooner or later, the opposition would call that bluff. Instead, as Sun Tzu advises, build strength and be capable, and there will be more than enough opportunities to take afterwards. It would simply be a matter of timing.
So the sound approach would be to come from a strong, safe, and positive position and point of view. As I described in "What is the mark of peace?", it is difficult to be positive without first being strong. When you are strong, you tend to smile more, joke with others more, and spread the joy that is in your heart to others more, making the battles in life at least a little more bearable. I hope your benevolence spreads all the way up to the Heavens and across All-Under-Heaven.
"Those skilled in defense conceal themselves in the lowest depths of the Earth. Those skilled in attack move in the highest reaches of the Heavens. Therefore, they are able to protect themselves and achieve complete victory." Sun Tzu
The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 AD - 180 AD) noted, "The Lacedaemonians at their public spectacles used to set seats in the shade for strangers, but themselves sat down anywhere."
The Lacedaemonians lived in Lacedaemon, better known as Sparta. It would seem strange that a military state like Sparta would have citizens who display such kindness to strangers, but one could argue it is the fact they understood the hardships of war that they were able to understand the value of comfort. This is in accordance to Sun Tzu: "If one is not fully cognizant of the dangers inherent in doing battle, one cannot fully know the benefits of doing battle."
It is another fact that Lacedaemonian women had virtually the same amount of freedom as men. From birth, girls were educated and literate. As women, they studied philosophy (as advocated by my intellectual hero Musonius), were able to own property, and were even able to speak out in public against men. How does one explain Lacedaemonian women having these freedoms in 7th century BC? Could it be that the Lacedaemonians valued liberty so much that they can't stand seeing others in bondage?
In modern times, it is almost a certainty that the soldier who had seen the most battle would be the biggest dove. Take for example US Marine Corps major general Smedley Butler (1881 – 1940), who was the most decorated Marine at the time of his death: 16 medals, five in heroism, two of which were the Medal of Honor. General Butler would spend the last part of his life educating people about the horrors of war and the profiteering of war. I'm sure he had his critics but I'm also certain they didn't have sufficient gravitas to challenge his position. He understood war inside and out, and thus was forceful and convincing in his opinion. His opposition didn't have a fighting chance.
On a personal note, a few nights ago I had an emotional dream. For whatever reason, I had no car and had to rely on the bus to get home. When I was young, I rode the bus on a regular basis, whether it was to go to school or to go to work. So I am no stranger to public transportation. However, in my dream, I felt a heavy sense of helplessness. I had no money and no idea where I was or how to get back home. Every stranger I was able to talk with were either very mean or when they did try to help, it was wrong or inadequate. People had good intentions but didn't go far enough to ensure I was indeed on the right path. It wasn't until I came across a poor woman with children was I able to get real assistance. She understood exactly how helpless I was feeling, and so had the empathy to make sure I finally got on the right bus that took me home.
In the examples above, you can see that the mark of peace is having a deep appreciation of peace. And to truly appreciate peace, one must have experienced the grave absence of it, which can be found in loss, hardship, struggle, conflict, and, ultimately, violent combat. When people have experienced such pain, they tend to not only empathize with others who experience the same pain but they also have a firm and impenetrable conviction for peace. Only someone ignorant of his or her weakness would try to oppose this position of strength, and he or she would fall flat.
This is analogous to Epictetus's lesson about a bull that knows he can charge forward to protect the herd from an attacking lion. That capability doesn't happen overnight. It takes training, practice, and experience. Only then can awareness, reasoning, and empathy become strengths. Only then can those strengths be translated into tangible results. And only then can peace be possible even in the face of trouble, adversity, and misfortune.
"One who is skilled in warfare principles subdues the enemy without doing battle." Sun Tzu
Sonshi.com acquired ☮️.com and NoWar.com in 2017. In 2018, we are making good use of them. We aren't about never fighting -- at times it is necessary for swift self-defense -- but about having such overwhelming strength that one doesn't need to fight. We are about doing no harm by taking the initiative. We are about achieving positive, peaceful results by educating proper use of strategy instead of carelessly accepting war as a viable solution because it is often not. We ask that you join us in the effort.
There are plenty of advice on the Web about the art of manliness, from how a man should dress to what skills he needs to have. Apparently, the art of being a man has been lost. The inference is there is actually a way to become a real man.
It is no wonder men nowadays are confused. Hopefully I can help to clear some of that confusion.
"In battle, there are no more than two types of attacks: Common and uncommon, yet the variations of the common and uncommon cannot all be anticipated." Sun Tzu
First, there is no one way of being a man. Nobody who is reasonable would claim they know the art of being a woman -- so too the absurdity of someone claiming they know the art of being a man. Men are as diverse as the environment they live in. This is especially true for men who live and work among other people, which is almost every man you know. The people and circumstances around each and every man are different. For all of them to follow a particular lost art of manliness, their actions would likely be untimely and inappropriate. Maybe there was a good reason why that art was lost in the past (and needs to stay lost!).
Second, success for a man is dependent upon his ability to think for himself and adapt accordingly. For him to not carefully evaluate his own situation himself and instead follow someone else's rigid regimen or technique, he will invariably make mistakes that would cost dearly him at home and at work. What he has to succeed hasn't been lost. Evolution would dictate that chances are good he already possessed what it takes to succeed as a man and it is within him from the time he was born.
"The general who does not advance to seek glory, or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people's security and promotes the people's interests, is the nation's treasure." Sun Tzu
And third, when a man worries more about himself than what his mission is, he ceases to become the person he wants to be. Since Abraham Lincoln had a beard, does that mean all men should grow a beard to become great leaders, too? You must not look for something that is unrelated to what you truly want. No need to simply look the part; it is enough that you think about your goal all day long because you would inevitably work to achieve it.
Therefore, your objective isn't to be a man that someone else thought a man should be. Your goal is your goal. It is unique. It is different. It is yours. In summary, the real man or woman you want to be is the one who is daily striving for your dream and eventually reaching it. And real men and women certainly aren't lost. One of them can be found in your mirror each and every morning.
When US President Donald Trump arrived at Davos three days ago, he was asked by a reporter, "What is your message to the world?" President Trump's response was spontaneous and immediate: "Peace." You can hear it in the video above at the 20 second mark.
Politics aside, I'm encouraged. The answer was what I've been waiting for. The answer was from the heart, which we all need more of. I've enough of cynicism and hate. I've enough of bias. I've recently read a business book, "Women Who Work," by Ivanka Trump. Unfortunately its top 10 Amazon reviews were filled with bias, cynicism, and hate. Having read hundreds of business books, I thought her tips were creative and useful. "Vapid" the critics repeated to themselves. It's like people can't separate out what they see before them from their prejudiced mindset. That was discouraging.
There have been times when I started to write a blog entry and later deleted it because it wasn't perfect. The concepts I presented didn't measure up to my own conduct. However, the enemy of good isn't evil but perfection. What I was proposing was indeed beneficial for so many and here I was overly concerned about everything lining up. The world is already messy, and any improvement would be welcomed.
Thus, world peace won't be perfect. Its path will be winding and slow. Yet peace is indeed the answer to many ailments all around the world. Life has its own troubles and how troubling that war has to be part of the equation when there are so many other variables to focus on. So I'm not going to complain about the rate of progress when the general direction is correct.
Sun Tzu's ultimate objective of winning without fighting is possible because human ingenuity makes things possible. When we say something is too hard, we are really saying that something is stronger than we are. Well, that's baloney. Even I fell for the trap recently. Three days ago I remarked to a modern-day Epictetus that a certain task is impossible. He promptly replied, "It's never impossible."
"It's never impossible."
Of course peace isn't free. But the alternative is war, which is infinitely more costly. The price for peace is unequivocal strength. It will use resources. Often it means sacrifice. And, oh, it's a thankless job. Without actions that are effective and practical, no amount of sympathy or empathy can help those who are too weak to protect themselves. Those who save people are those who are actually capable of saving people.
Capability is where Sun Tzu comes in. He is the bridge from one side to the other, in more ways than one. Strategies that work never go out of style. Principles in unity never get old. Leadership that pushes us out of what's comfortable and into what is scary but better for us will always have a place in history.
Leaders will seem to have the unenviable position of being praised after they are long gone. And according to Sun Tzu, the very best leaders would never be thanked at all because the people would feel they have achieved it themselves. After all, world peace cannot be achieved without the world itself involved.
"Persistence isn't using the same tactics over and over. That's just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over." Seth Godin
"Study the five factors of warfare: Way, Heaven, Ground, General, and Law. Calculate your strength in each and compare them to your enemy's strengths. The 'Way' is the strong bond your people have with you. Whether they face certain death or hope to come out alive, they never worry about danger or betrayal." Sun Tzu
On this spirit-filled Christmas day, I would like to share with you the big secret to world peace. It is big because the alternative is destruction, suffering, and stagnation. It is a secret because few seem cognizant of it.
The big secret to world peace is achieving peace at home.
The definition for home would depend on where the leader (you!) is. That is to say, if he or she doesn't have peace in his or her nation, he or she must focus a level down, which is to achieve peace in the region. If not, then narrow it down to the city. If not the city, then look into the neighborhood. If still not the neighborhood, then the business and household. If there is not peace there, then the starting point is the self.
In other words, if there is peace in the nation, then there must be peace in the region, city, neighborhood, business, household, and self. Now we see why peace in the world is so difficult to achieve throughout history. It all starts by focusing and educating the many selves on how to instill peace within themselves. We teach everyone reading and arithmetic, but gaining the skill of how to handle life's everyday emotions is also important if not more so.
A common problem that causes a person to lose peace is trying to control things that don't belong to him or her. It might belong to other people, who are also doing what they think is beneficial to them. The only thing that truly belongs to an individual is his or her own actions. If one tries to control the actions of others, and when others don't go along, then that is the cause of much grief and unhappiness.
That is not to say that one cannot educate and convince others on why they might want to change direction to better accomplish their aim. People will do what they think is right to them. If they fail to accomplish their aim, and if someone shows them a better way, then they might very well change their mind. As a result, the leader has instilled the Way, where everyone is more learned and is of one mind and direction, much like the agreement that 2+2=4.
The Way (the Tao) is the right way -- the divine, most spiritual way -- because it aligns with the universe. And because it aligns and thus works with the universe, people can gain strength and can fulfill grand goals such as peace on earth.
That is why Sun Tzu lists the Way first in his five factors of winning in warfare. To Sun Tzu, the best win in war is not defeating the enemy 100 times in battle, but defeating the enemy 100 times without ever fighting at all. Some people believe war is inevitable, as if war is part of human nature. Is war truly inevitable when peace is extended indefinitely each and every time conflict flares up, even if it flares up 100 times? Sun Tzu teaches us that extending peace is possible, making war obsolete and foolish in practice.
Going back to the idea of peace at home. Can a world leader be a peaceful leader if he or she is not peaceful at home? It is not possible. So if one wants to win without fighting, he or she must first aim at the heart of the problem, not at its peripheral symptoms.
Too many leaders mindlessly refer to the actions of the past to only solve the symptom and not the cause, and so wars rage on -- as if this was good standard practice. In short, if there is no benefit, stop. Sun Tzu advises us to do just that.
Sun Tzu said people see how victories were won but cannot duplicate the result by copying past actions because they don't understand the underlying wisdom. That's because every situation is different and thus a leader cannot be effective by following in other people's same footsteps. He or she must study and understand the principles and wisdom first and foremost, and then critically think for him or herself in each new situation.
For example, instead of the same old threats and coercion tactics, why not also consider offering an olive branch. This plants a seed of peace in the opposition's mind. It is a surprise that he or she is completely unprepared for. Therefore, this seed can go through walls where battering rams cannot. If it fails to sprout and is rejected, one would not lose anything but a show of strength and sincere kindness. And don't be afraid to accept that olive branch if it is returned. Peace is then extended. Don't automatically fight harder; think harder. Try something new, different, innovative, enlightened.
Anybody can achieve peace at home if he or she puts his or her mind to it. For yourself, at any time, you can simply decide to be kind and pleasant. Unlike other valuable skills, there is no training involved in this decision, only a shift in continual focus. It can be accomplished immediately but it takes effort to maintain. Do not underestimate the challenge here, lest it defeats you and makes you fall back to what's more familiar. Unlearn old knowledge and gift yourself new habits this Christmas.
If there is conflict with other individuals around you, and they are entrenched in their positions, Sun Tzu advises that to make people move, attack what they value most. What is it that would make them more open and peaceful with you? Influence their behaviors by changing your own behavior. If it doesn't work the first time, don't give up -- timing is also critical according to Sun Tzu. In due time, they too will develop healthier habits and see the benefits of them. This is leadership and you are acting the part of the leader.
Like a ripple in a pond, your own actions would have an effect on the actions of others. They in turn will create their own ripples. With much luck, wisdom, and hard work, it will eventually turn into whole waves like in all the oceans of the world.
World peace might start with a leader but it is not the job of the leader, no matter how powerful and magnanimous; it can only be achieved if everyone can begin to see the Way and decide to walk along its path, too. It involves plenty of education and resources. If this sounds too costly in time, toil, and treasure, then we can continue to spend the same amount engaged in fighting wars with even less to show for it in the end.
What a Christmas it would be in the year when we can say "Peace on Earth" and truly mean it. We would mean it when it is not merely a wish but something that we have worked so hard to earn. We must not make the same mistakes of yesterday hoping that things will work out. We must show leadership and make a deliberate decision today for the sake of tomorrow.
"To achieve a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; to subjugate the enemy's army without doing battle is the highest of excellence ... Winning battles such that the whole world cries 'Excellent!' is not the highest excellence." Sun Tzu
As announced yesterday, we have acquired the domain name NoWar.com, which was originally registered in 1998, a year earlier than when Sonshi.com was founded. I still can't believe how we ended up with the name and can only attribute our luck to the heavens.
The phrase No War has tremendous significance to me because it represents Sun Tzu's ultimate goal and mark of the "highest of excellence." No War also challenges the common notion that war is a viable option. Instead, a war is a sign that things have been poorly managed by those in power.
According to Sun Tzu, a leader must be so adept at handling conflicts that the conditions from which wars get started could never take hold. That is because prevention is his or her focus, when conflicts are easier to manage. This skill requires a keen sensitivity to tackling small issues before they become larger ones.
Leaders can see what others cannot, and thus can do what others cannot. If problems are such that everyone can see them, then that is when we know the people in power have failed the organization, community, or nation. A small problem solved clumsily is vastly superior to a big problem solved efficiently. (Imagine how much more costly if large problems are mishandled!)
Therefore, the wise understand that there is no glory in fighting a war. To the general populace, however, there is no glory in preventing a war either, for they can't possibly fathom what never transpired. That's ok, because students of Sun Tzu can't possibly fathom doing anything different regardless. The benefits themselves are good enough.
Thank you so much for your support and confidence through the years.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." Jesus
[Before we begin, I would like to make a quick announcement. Today we have acquired the domain name NoWar.com. This name is important to us because of Sonshi.com's purpose. Like ☮.com, NoWar.com represents Sun Tzu's highest accomplishment. I hope you join us in the cause.]
Recent headlines in the news have brought to the forefront the need for me to discuss the topic of power, namely the abuse of power.
In 1887, British politician Lord Acton wrote, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
The key phrase Acton used was "almost always," to which he had plenty of empirical evidence to back up his general belief, yet astutely left himself room for rare exceptions to the contrary.
So let's talk a little about power and why it likely leads to corruption.
When people see a person caught in a crime, it isn't unusual for them to express shock and disdain. "We would never," they would proclaim, "do such a terrible thing."
But is their statement entirely true? For how would they know for sure they wouldn't do such a thing if they aren't in this person's position? If given the same circumstances, would they fall into the same trap? What are the chances that this criminal is sufficiently different from the rest of the population?
In other words, is it possible that people don't do bad things not because they are necessarily good people but that they simply don't have the opportunity? Lord Acton would seem to agree with this sentiment.
I don't blame those who have this cynicism. They probably have seen it too many times in life where bad people succeeded. When morals aren't considered a factor in effectiveness, wouldn't it make sense to only focus on the tactical and technical aspects? There are books written where morality isn't even a factor but how cunning the strategies must be. To consider morality would seem naive.
Fortunately, Sun Tzu disagrees. Of the five factors of victory in war, the very first is the Tao (or Way): the alignment of the leader's interests with the people's interests. In contrast, corrupt people in power don't share the interests of others.
Furthermore, Sun Tzu discusses the winning five attributes of the leader: wisdom, trustworthiness, benevolence, bravery, and discipline. Abusive people possess little to none of these attributes since they cannot go beyond their impulses and selfishness.
When people with power abuse their position, they can nonetheless be effective for some time. They are able to continue their abuse as long as they benefit the right people around them. They share the interests of a relative few, not all.
However, as the saying goes, the only constant in life is change. Historical records prove that no matter how powerful, entire dynasties were toppled over and over again, never mind one abusive individual. For example, Sun Tzu mentions in The Art of War two dynasties that started out benevolent but their own people enabled their destruction after the rulers became corrupt:
"In ancient times, the rise of the Yin dynasty was due to I Chih, who served the house of Hsia; the rise of the Chou dynasty was due to Lu Ya, who served the house of Yin." Sun Tzu
Abuse and corruption are initially allowed, tolerated, and then abruptly banished. Abuse and corruption go through this plateau-to-cliff cycle because of conflict and competition, both of which are agents of change and inevitable in life. Once conflicts or competitors appear, wise leaders appear, and people have viable options that are more aligned with their own interests:
"The leader who does not advance to seek glory, or does not withdraw to avoid punishment, but cares for only the people's security and promotes the people's interests, is the nation's treasure." Sun Tzu
Therefore, the forgotten law of power is that only the wise and benevolent can ultimately prevail because they are the only ones imbued with the principles found in Sun Tzu's The Art of War.
Their success lasts because they are "the nation's treasure." A treasure isn't something that people simply tolerate but something they don't want to lose and want to hold on to as long as they can.
The forgotten law of power isn't held by the leader who wishes to stay in power as long as possible -- which is rather quite petty and common -- but that power is remarkably held up by countless followers who wish for him or her to stay in power.
Yet playing the role of the leader isn't easy:
"It is important for a leader to be calm and remote, upright and disciplined." Sun Tzu
The standard bar that leaders clear is significantly higher than what is expected of the average person. The training to be able to clear such a hurdle is long and difficult, a steep price that people in power "almost always" aren't willing to pay. Lord Acton is correct in more ways than one.
In what ways are leaders extraordinary? Leaders don't call themselves out as leaders, and so they are hard to identify. They get satisfaction from the results achieved, not the praise or recognition from others. They can pass tests of hardship as competently as tests of pleasure. Throwing punishment or luxury in their way would matter little. They are still human and indeed feel perturbed and tempted ever so slightly, but they too strong to be taken.
It is such strength that is required to win without fighting and achieve lasting peace. It is such wisdom that followers believe they did it themselves and even enemies feel they have won, too. It is such benevolence that no war is possible around the world in due time.