Sun Tzu and the Profitable Way
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The Art of War for Today
2.7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.
A child learns two ways. By doing and by watching. When we were children we did not know what a decision was let alone the difference between a good decision and a bad decision. We either did what came to mind or did not. Anyone who was bigger physically or older knew more so we followed without question. We simply tried to copy what we saw, we did not know if it was good, bad, right or wrong, safe or dangerous.
We did so because we did not know any better and because there are some things you can only learn by doing. This is how we learn to walk, talk, catch a ball and not to pick up hot objects. Some of these actions we learn very quickly others take longer. So learning from the actions and mistakes of others can save us time and agony, however somethings we have to do to fully learn. We all learn to walk and run, yet very few will win a gold medal for walking or running. We do not need to learn everything to perfection, we only need to learn it until it serves our purpose. Not all of us want to win anything by walking or running.
“What we hope ever to do with ease, we must first learn to do with diligence.” Samuel Johnson, The Life Of Samuel Johnson
For years we watched our parents and family friends drive us around, it is not until we sit in the drivers seat that we learn just how difficult it is to drive a car. Initially we cry we will never learn this skill, it is way too complicated. Yet after a seemingly small passage of time we appear to do it effortlessly if not responsibly.
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” Confucius.
Initially, when we are young we learn by imitation and experience. Most of what we learn is a combination of both, this is how we learnt how to walk and catch a ball. It is not until we reach a certain age, different for each of us, that we can learn by reflection or thinking before acting. We can choose how we act after watching others do what we want to do. It not our failures that teach us or make us better, it is how we react to our failures or unsuccessful attempts that determine how well we learn. It is the cumulative experience that shows if we are a risk taker or are more cautious in how we go about learning new skills.
The hardest thing about learning is learning how to learn. Some can learn by reading, others watching and most by doing. While learning by reflection maybe the most noble, for most of us, it is a combination of all three that will get us to where we want to be. We must learn how to blend the three to minimise the pain of the experience.
Watching a thousand videos of people falling of a bike does not match the experience or knowledge gained by one such personal fall. This is learning the evils of war. Living through an experience is the greatest tutor of all. Lessons learned the hard way are the lessons best learned and least forgotten.
It is the goal of every parent to pass on this knowledge to save their children that pain they suffered in their own learning curve, however it seems that each generation must learn certain lessons the hard way, their own way.
4.4. Hence the saying: One may KNOW how to conquer without being able to DO it.
Others can give us all the greatest advice and knowledge we could ever need, yet until we are ready to learn, they are wasting their time and energy. We must want to learn and be ready to learn before we can learn anything.
7.12. We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.
Being “thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war” infers a personal experience, however this may not be enough. We can learn by the experiences of others, as mentioned by Confucis. When we turn to others for advice or information, we must know thier bias. Bias not in a negative way but in a realistic truth. Everyone is biased by thier experiences. Sometimes it is this very bias that we want or need to learn from. Those who have experienced war are always biased against it. When we turn to others to learn from, we need to know as detailed as possible who that person is and what thier bias is.
If we turn to a particular broadcaster for our daily news, it would be beneficial to know if they were ever deeply involved in a political movement or some other movement that could bias their reports. Do you really want to take religious advice from a priest or rabi who has lost thier faith?
Normally we take our own advice, so we should be aware of our biases. Not as simple or as easy as it sounds.
In short, we should avoid war if possible. Where war can not be avoided we should aim to make it as short and a least destructive as possible. Challenging goals to be sure.