About 2,300 years ago, the world scene was changed when Sun Tzu and other Chinese generals created new Rules of Engagement strategy for the military. For Sun Tzu, the issue was winning a battle by not fighting, in the military sense, by choosing not to use weapons and other means to annihilate one’s enemy, unless there was no other way around it. This was, and is, a noble goal.
Sun Tzu didn’t mean for his Art of War to be a series of specific tasks, although military tasks are mentioned. They were not a string of rules, like beads on a necklace intended that his Art of War be seen on the same plane as being not just doing. As one practiced these arts, they were to become second nature. Their purpose was to be internalized in hearts and brains so they would be the principles chosen automatically when conflict arose.
Today, all of us face a multiplied amount of conflict and chaos in our lives, and simply by living in our contemporary world. Sun Tzu’s notions of military strategies may be applied to day-to-day occurrences all of us face. They are Eastern practicesso they are non-linear and intuitive in their makeup. In contrast with the Western practice of warfare (embodied in the phrase ‘might makes right’) they are very different, and must be experienced to find their effectiveness.
In this blog I want to focus on one of Sun Tzu’s key principles—one that can help us along the path to resolving conflict and lowering the chaos conflagration in our lives.
One of Sun Tzu’s categories of a good general or warrior is having the appropriate view of any given situation. Writers, politicians, scholars, philosophers, and theologians will all say that that you can’t understand any area of knowledge unless you first understand the context in which it emerged, and the context in which it presently functions. This is a problem, I’ve observed, with many Fundamentalist Christians—they distort Biblical teachings by not understanding the context of the text.
We all have views that are blends of biases, prejudices, truth-telling, accurately witnessing events, ideals, and formative belief systems. So the notion of having an accurate view isn’t as simple as it may first look.
At one point in my life, a catch phrase I heard repeated all the time was trying to get the big picture. When I think of this phrase, I usually see an image of a flying eagle, high above the earth, using its keen and powerful sight to find its prey. An eagle has the capacity to see the Big Picture. So if eagles have this attribute, why is it so hard for humans to obtain it and use it?
A phrase used by James Girmian and Barry Boyce in their 2001 book Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict-Strategies from The Art of War, Sun Tzu say that another phrase that companions with the Big Picture is Getting the Whole View. They refer to the necessity, in solving any conflict, of getting the Whole View, that is the ability of being able to step back and see how all the incremental parts of any chaotic conflict are interdependent. Western culture has the view that everything around us is separate from us, and separate from one another. In actual practice, nothing is separate, and everything is interdependent, giving and taking continually, from each of the parts to add to the whole.
So Sun Tzu advocated for this perspective in minimizing conflict, and perhaps ending it altogether in its given context. One definition of how our lives function in the world, as taught in General Semantics, is this: life is an organism as a whole, functioning within a system, in a specific context or environment. Go to www.generalsemantics.org for more information on this definition. This definition is almost equivocally the same as the concept of interdependency.
So, let’s say your adolescent is giving you major stress (and you are to her probably if you’re honest with yourself) and frustration due to her search for individuality and identity. What do you do? Try detaching a little and get a Bigger Picture of what’s going on in your daughter’s life and this may help you to reach your goal at getting at the heart of the conflict. What elements of adolescence are you dealing with in this conflict? What stressors is she dealing with in life right now? What methods are you using to resolve this conflict between her and you? Think back in time about your own adolescence—what stresses did you have? What conflicts did you have with your parents and other authority figures? Did you ever get in trouble for exerting your autonomy? How did you feel around the opposite sex?
In this way, you are attempting to get a bigger picture rather than just viewing this conflict with your teenager as oppositional, adversarial, or anti-authoritarian. When you have done this kind of personal, self-reflective work, it will most likely keep you from falling into the fatal trap of what may be called tunnel vision, or an emotional commitment to ignorance.
Practicing seeing the Big Picture and Getting a Whole View will help you in your ordinary way of living.
Some other books may be helpful in learning how to develop the Big Picture View of Sun Tzu:
1. Cleary, Thomas (translator and commentary). (1996).The Lost Art of War. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
2. The Demma Translation Group. (2001).The Art of War: The Demma Translation. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
3. Revell, Donald. (2007).The Art of Attention: A Poet’s Eye. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press.
4. James Trapp (translator). (2012).The Art of War by Sun Tzu. New York: Chartwell Books, Inc.
© Christopher Bear-Beam October 28, 2013