The generals have a saying:
‘Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.’
This is called going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.
There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.
When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 69, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Knowing How to Yield
Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about how to guard and preserve simplicity, patience, and compassion, our three greatest treasures. In today’s chapter, he warns us against destroying them. For that, he returns to talking about generals. Yesterday, he talked about the best generals entering the minds of their opponents. Today, we hear what these generals have to say.
Is this how generals think today? I don’t know. Maybe the best generals do. Maybe we don’t have anyone like the best generals of Lao Tzu’s day, today. I have no military expertise, so I really can’t say. But, I suspect the civilians we “elect” to direct our best generals are responsible for the folly which is US imperialism and hegemony, and not our generals. And, I just have to say, I would like to have Lao Tzu’s best generals, and their sayings, be what drives foreign policy. For, it is better to wait and see, than make the first move. It is better to retreat a yard, than advance even an inch.
This is the practice of being in harmony with the Tao. It is competing without competing. By practicing this, you go forward without advancing, and push back without using weapons. It is the practice of yielding.
By entering the mind of your enemy you will never underestimate them. This saves us from the greatest of misfortunes. Why is underestimating your enemy the greatest misfortune? It is because thinking your enemy is evil destroys your three greatest treasures. You become your own worst enemy.
I am thinking, right now, of the West’s underestimating of Putin in Russia, Assad in Syria, and all the regimes we have “changed” or sought to “change” over the years. And, I won’t even begin to list off all the people we have put on watch lists, or targeted for drone strikes. We have a long history of underestimating the enemy. Is it any wonder our three greatest treasures have been destroyed?
For they have been, my friends, they have. Where are simplicity, patience, and compassion to be found in Washington DC? Please pardon me for not speaking of foreign capitols, of which I am wholly ignorant. Still, I suspect they are much the same as Washington; though, hopefully, a bit more humble.
My point in all this is actually quite simple. We need to return to nurturing our three greatest treasures. And, for Lao Tzu, that comes down to how we define victory. When two great forces oppose each other, the victory doesn’t go to the biggest, or the baddest. It goes to the one who knows how to yield.