What can Parents Learn from The Supreme Art of War?
If you’re not familiar with it, The Art of War is a book written by an ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu. He was a military leader and master strategist.
I will note that there is a strong contingent of people that say Sun Tzu was a collective of people that contributed to the work overall and not just one person. Regardless, the work is an amazing collection of wisdom about the art of warfare and how to fight.
To help you understand the work, here are some of the best-known passages from the book.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
Not only do military leaders appreciate this work, but business people too. Many people take the wisdom of the book and apply it to their professions.
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
I like that one. That’s like something out of Batman, right?
So why am I talking about a book on warfare in a post about protector parenting? Well, it’s because of what Sun Tzu says about the supreme art of war.
Here is this influential military strategist who has proven himself a capable leader so you might think he would say that the supreme art of war is to destroy without remorse. Or strike harder and with more savagery than your opponent. But no… that’s not it at all.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
To subdue the enemy without fighting. Let that sink in. But wait, he’s a military general doesn’t he get paid to fight? This seems counter to what we all think a military leader would say.
What Does This Mean for Us?
My interpretation of this passage is that Sun Tzu understands the downside of conflict. People get hurt, they die in conflict. The land is torched and people are polarized by fighting.
Wouldn’t it be great to win a fight with no downside? To achieve the ultimate win. How would that be done? Suppress your enemy before they can hurt you before the people can be polarized and with no negative consequences. Then you can work to build that nation back under your influence.
My modern-day take on this, and you’ve heard me say it a lot, is to win the battle before it starts. In-home security we light the outside of our homes so that our house looks like a hard target so a thief never tries to break in. When we are in public, we keep our faces out of our phones and stay aware of our surroundings so we don’t look like a victim in waiting.
In all of these scenarios, we don’t have to fight. We keep doing what we want to do. The bad guys seek to disrupt us, but we won’t be rattled. Our homes are not damaged, our family is safe and we can go about our lives without fear. That’s winning the fight before it starts.
This also speaks to the importance of de-escalation. If you find yourself in a situation where someone does mean you harm or wants to start a conflict with you, how can you subdue them - get them to leave you alone - without resorting to the violence they desire.
Honestly, I’d rather tell 10 stores about de-escalating a situation than talk about one fight that I was in. Later Sun Tzu writes:
“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”
As a protector parent, how are you going to win the fight before it starts? How can you resolve an issue at work? How can you restore peace to a chaotic situation? How are you going to calm an angry driver without resorting to road rage? (I’ve done all of those, by the way.)
How are you going to subdue the enemy without fighting? There are many battles we face in this world. You need to be revered for winning the battle before it even starts.