“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
– Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”
I moved to Florida just shy of two years ago. Being from the Midwest, I always sound like a newbie when heat-related issues arise. “The cold kills off everything and anything where I’m from,” I always find myself saying. That’s why, when I saw black mold growing in my apartment, I didn’t know what to do.
It’s in the moments we have to quickly adapt that we learn the most — and learn which battles are worth fighting and which aren’t. (We’ll return to the mold in a moment.)
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES WISELY
Think back to the last time you felt emotionally triggered. Someone said something that truly hurt you. The project you were working on failed. Or, like me, you found something dangerous growing in your home. We feel a wave of emotion come over us when we feel triggered. It’s in that moment when we react instantly (probably saying something we later regret or making a fool of ourselves) or we take a moment to reflect. Whether we’re aware of it or not, that’s when we are choosing to engage or walk away.
“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
The quote at the beginning of this article is a powerful one. It’s said that Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (or, as some argue, a group of strategists) wrote “The Art of War,” around 500 B.C. Though the book was written for actual, physical battle, the applications of it run deeper.
We live in a reactionary world where we act first and think second (if at all). But, as Tzu might argue, to win the “battle” you are facing, you must learn yourself and, therefore, learn which battles are worth your time and energy, before you act. Because, as Tzu puts it, “he will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
To apply this 2,500-year-old text to modern life, let’s review some of the questions we can ask ourselves the next time we feel that wave of emotion sweep over us. In other words, let’s set up a few internal “filters” for choosing our battles wisely.
INTERNAL FILTERS FOR WEIGHING ACTION
1. THE PAIN SCALE
When visiting the doctor, most of us have been asked what our pain level is on a scale of 1–10. That’s the first way a doctor can tell how bad an injury is, and it helps guide them in the right direction. A doctor (hopefully) wouldn’t start putting a cast around your entire femur before finding out your pain level from that fall you took was only a 2 or 3.
That’s why, the easiest first step toward engaging in a “battle” with someone or something is to give yourself the “pain” test. If it’s anything less than a 5 or a 6, the battle is likely not even worth pursuing.
2. ACCEPTING THE DECISION AND CONSEQUENCES
We have no crystal ball that shows us the results of our decisions. All we can do is make a decision with the information and facts we have at the time. That’s why, when deciding whether to go into battle, we must ask ourselves: “Can I live with my decision and not turn back? Am I willing to accept the consequences good or bad?”
If the answer to either of those questions is no, we likely need to reconsider taking on this current battle.
For instance, my mold situation required me to act quickly. I didn’t know what the result would be, all I could do was act on the information I had at the time. I had to come to grips with the two potential consequences: Either they’d let me out of my lease (eventually) or I’d have to pay a hefty sum of money to get out of my lease.
I made my decision to move out. I had to own that decision, regardless of the eventual outcome or consequences. If we don’t own our decisions — and ultimately take responsibility for them — we leave the door wide open for regret and remorse.
3. WHO IS INVOLVED?
This one hits home for me. I’ve always shied away from every battle put before me because I “didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.” But, sometimes, standing up for what’s right is the best thing to do — whether you win or not.
It’s important to consider who’s involved in your decision. Will it negatively impact others? Can you live with that? Do you want to live with that? This one’s a little tougher, since morals are involved and relative to each person. But, understanding and living by your morals is a way of knowing yourself — and setting yourself up for victory. Though, let’s be honest: No loss is really a loss in the battle of life.
THE BATTLE OF LIFE
That’s the difference between a physical battle (like Tzu wrote about) and a “life” battle: There’s still hope in a life battle. There are no losses. If we stand up for what’s right and choose to do so with grace and compassion, we are setting ourselves up for victory.
For tomorrow always comes, the sun always rises and a clean slate awaits us. Next time you feel triggered to pull out your sword and head into battle, remember to let the reality of it sink in. Let it go through your filtering system, and consider the war in its entirety instead of focusing on this one small battle.