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  • Writer's pictureMetta

New Reading

I am currently reading "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu. It's actually a book about peace - trying to reduce harm.

My Buddhist practice has many practices, including core tenents of wise action, wise speech, and non-harming. And yet every action I do causes harm. The very act of being alive causes harm. How do I wisely lead? How do I wisely care? How do I wisely try to support change? And also reduce my harm? How do I wisely live? How do I live in harm reduction? How do I not focus all my energy on what’s wrong and also see with equanimity the whole landscape?

Someone reminded me that when properly done, leadership and power is given. Not taken. And when given, and properly done, it is held in great responsibility. Leadership and conflict dance together all the time. In my experience, much of the one-on-one interactions I have with others in leadership is calm, and at a regular cadence. But not always. Much of the stressful interactions I have is within teams, often at points where we are under duress and the group is seeking direction and consensus. But not always. I also deal with a variety of personality types, and when trying to introduce new ideas I find many obstacles to moving things forward. But not always.

It is important for me to understand more of some core texts of very important insight, containing a great deal of wisdom. These are core texts with a lot of wisdom about leadership, harm reduction, conflict, and peace. And in doing so I hope to generate more ongoing practice with these texts in daily life. To hopefully bring in more ease, more spaciousness, when also contributing to wise action and caring compassionate involvement in the world.

But also - after writing the above, I started deeply thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King. His picture was on the altar of the graduation I had through my Spiritual Teaching and Leadership program and East Bay Meditation Center. He was a part of a kind of a war, a war to create needed change through peaceful action. A rising up to create a more just and safe world for his people, and in turn for all people. And there were many careful decisions made along the way to make things happen, it was a coordinated effort. Power has a lot of power. A lot of influence. A lot of people in a trance. How can one actually do anything about it? Dr. King and his close comrades went very very far.

"War is the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied"... "war is a grave matter; one is apprehensive lest [people] embark upon it without due reflection"

In the first chapter "estimates" there are five fundamental factors. The writer encourages one to appraise these carefully.

Moral influence





Moral influence - that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril. So this is indicating that the leader must be carefully chosen. This does tie in with the very careful leadership instruction of the Tao Te Ching, which is a fundamental source of grounding/guidance for this text.

If one must engage in conflict of some kind, who is in leadership is important. I was thinking of the kind of conflict necessary in trying to create change. Conflict is high stress. Those that embark on it together need to stay together, or be split apart. If fully split apart, then all is lost. It's why the Russians did a careful campaign to break apart the Women's March movement. Divide, break apart, break. No more threat to an agenda. Or the ways that conflict was purposely embedded in colonization, through creating conflict between oppressed people so that they would break apart amongst themselves rather than gathering in solidarity and then being more powerful than their oppressors.

When I think of some kinds of conflict that went well and contributed to change, there was a charismatic figure at the front - but it does seem to me that behind the scenes there was a semi-invisible group that worked together and collaborated - again thinking about Dr. King and his closest advisors. There was a kind of shared leadership that was invisible like in the Tao. But it is not something I have deeply studied, so I am perhaps off in my analogy - this has my curiosity heightened around this topic, and makes me want to research that more. So maybe it isn't just one single leader - but more a kind of collective, that is not that big, that creates that moral influence leadership. Also when using metaphor - it doesn't have to be a perfect match. Also I realized the text is referring to leaders and commanders/generals separately I think...

But also before engaging in conflict, you must have the people on your side with you. And trust has to have been built up over time. And repair, if trust gets harmed. Otherwise - there is no unified front.

Weather - if the weather is not right, it will make things either much much harder or even impossible. But perhaps that can speak to what is going on around the conflict. The emotional temperature. World events concurrent to the conflict. Do I engage in conflict and do I need to take into account additional factors, or are external factors more minimal in this situation? What happened in the news this week, what group is most impacted?

Terrain. I was also thinking about distance. Not just what the terrain is like, but also how far to go. If it's near and the terrain is difficult but manageable, that is different from far with difficult terrain. Perhaps like weather this can again be considering factors around the conflict. Are there structures, laws, societal norms..... I also was thinking about in conflict how in the U.S. everyone is sitting on the impact hundreds of years of White Supremacy and colonization and how that is loaded loaded terrain. How any time spent on team building, moving at the speed of trust, decolonizing interactions, any kind of dismantling of any of that ahead of time means when conflict hits there is a little more chance of making it through due to modifying the terrain. It is the ethical thing to dismantle all of it and work on repair anyway, but it also paves the road to making it through conflict.

Command - the general's qualities of wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage, and strictness. This seems straightforward to me. The strictness one is interesting. That one I have to think about. I know in leadership I'm encouraged to set boundaries and keep to them.

Doctrine - organization, control, assignment of appropriate ranks to officers, regulation of supply routes, and the provision of principle items used by the army.

Well of course, heck yeah. Without preparation, necessary items, people knowing what their job is and what they are accountable for, everything just collapses. And infighting hits.

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