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)
Know How to Yield
Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu talked about guarding and protecting our three greatest treasures. These three greatest treasures being virtues, which by our practice of them, we accord with the way things are. Chief among these treasures is compassion. But the other two, moderation and humility, are pillars of support to assist us in being compassionate. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu warns against losing everything our three greatest treasures afford us.
How could this happen?
It could happen if we underestimate our enemy.
Underestimating the enemy, thinking too little of them, we might be inclined to strike first, to initiate aggression. It would be better to wait and see what our opponent does, but who among our rulers has the patience for that?
It is this lack of patience which concerns me. It has always concerned me.
Why? Because the history of US foreign policy is full of examples of what their impatience has motivated them to do. When the political will wasn’t ripe for initiating aggression, our rulers circumvented that impediment to their wish to embroil us all in a war by provoking the enemy to make the mistake of striking first, or at least seemingly striking first.
Then, the way is made clear to really underestimate the enemy. The propagandists, having been chomping at the bits for some time, can finally subvert the people into thinking the enemy is evil.
This is a great misfortune, Lao Tzu calls it the greatest of misfortunes; and, it has been visited on us repeatedly over something like two hundred some odd years of history. Since, before the War of 1812.
The results have been devastating. Destroying our three greatest treasures. What made us great, when we were great. Compassion? Moderation? Humility? These never stood a chance, when dreams of Empire were on our rulers’ minds.
When will we ever learn? When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one who knows how to yield.