“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
So we arrive on our very first “Gear-Up Monday” and we’ll take this inaugural moment (non-pun intended) to very briefly ponder the nature of war—not, in this instance, the wars fought by nations and tribes, nor even the battles waged by political parties and ideological factions, but the combat we engage in during our everyday lives and the struggles we face in our office ecosystems. I suspect that if you’re reading this, you don’t really need an ancient Chinese strategist to tell you about the high cost of war. I myself have discussed previously the notion that it is very much preferable (and to our advantage) to approach our personal and professional lives with a disposition towards peace.
But we can all agree that there is much in our lives that exists well outside of our control. Not everyone we encounter, nor especially all those who wield some power over our lives, will be as committed to peace and tolerance and cooperation as we are. The little wars raging each day are a reality with which we are confronted, from which we should not avert our gaze—and, at times, which overwhelm us entirely and against our will.
Sometimes, dare I say it, we are forced in various ways to fight.
Sometimes, be it against a spouse, a family member, a friend, or an employer, we are forced to fight for our values and for the very way of life we believe fundamental to our existence. Those are the big fights. Other times, we have to fight to avoid “getting in trouble,” or fight to maintain a position of (relative) security in our job. These are the small fights, but are no less worth pondering—and often, in the moment, they don’t seem all that small, either.
So when we consider these realities, it becomes perhaps worth noting that the author of the world’s most famous treatise on fighting uses ink very early in his manual to enunciate the fact that war is always costly for both sides. We cannot allow an acknowledgment of the outside forces which often override our best instincts to completely shut down our desire to maintain peaceful relations as much of the time as we are able. That’s not merely a moral enjoinder but a strategic maxim. We’ll retain more of what we consider to be ours by not fighting than we often do by fighting.
When we truly need to engage in some form of combat, however, we must not be caught in over-complacent inaction. As my other friend Niccolo Machiavelli reminds us:
“[T]he Romans did in these instances what all prudent princes ought to do, who have to regard not only present troubles, but also future ones, for which they must prepare with every energy, because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time because the malady has become incurable; for it happens in this, as the physicians say it happens in hectic fever, that in the beginning of the malady it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but in the course of time, not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure….Therefore, the Romans, foreseeing troubles, dealt with them at once, and, even to avoid a war, would not let them come to a head, for they knew that war is not to be avoided, but is only to be put off to the advantage of others.”
Hard words to take for those of us who don’t usually relish the fighting, but it’s truth we need to embrace. Everything is more manageable when caught in its early stages. Nicky Mack isn’t saying that war is not to be avoided when it isn’t necessary, but that avoiding it when it is necessary is only going to bring gain to your enemies at a direct expense to yourself. When you spend any measure of time, as I must in my duties as a wizard, practicing awareness and mindfulness, there is a clarity of mind that carries over to normal “temporal” life, mainly because there are no actual boundaries between a spiritual-religious life and a temporal one. You will find this clarity, often before you realize it, lends itself quite well to foreseeing misfortune without indulging in paranoia or complexes of persecution. When you see trouble on the horizon, see if you can think of a way to confront it before you reach the horizon. It will be easier to deal with, its negative aspects more easy to absorb. And, if I may indulge in one final suspicion, I do suspect that our cultural problem with anxiety derives in some substantial percentage (though probably not a majority) from the effects of knowing, consciously or otherwise, that a battle as coming to us while we try to put it off. When I consider the image of that circumstance, in fact, I see almost the archetypal image of anxiety and tension. Let’s shed that.
Be gentle and be peaceful and be kind. But also go forth with courage. In all likelihood, no one you personally battle has the power to either lock you up or kill you. Anything outside of those two things is survivable. Difficult and temporarily crippling, perhaps, but survivable. Use your clarity to see what you’re going to have to face, and use your courage to face it.