Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chinese Wisdom

Twenty-five hundred years ago, a Chinese general named Sun Tzu wrote a collection of essays on military strategy known as The Art Of War, in which he offers this sage advice: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. While most of our life is hopefully not war, and the people we have to deal with are usually not enemies, it's certainly helpful to remember Sun Tzu's wisdom whenever we face a challenge.


  1. Yes, I agree, and it's worth reading repeatedly from time to time, as well as Machiavelli. More than Macchiavelli, Sun Tzu pronounces timeless rules, if I remember well and understood him well.

    20 years ago I read an edition with a preface written by Richard Nixon, who had struggled with Vietnam, signed contracts with Russia and visited China, thus experiencing Asia in various ways. I would like to read again that preface, but I can't find it.

    Goethe said, in every epoche has been repeated the request to "know oneself", but he claimed that this was not possible and even useless. He said that everyone is apt to perceive only one's surroundings according to goals, and that this is already quite a busyness to put into action. He said, a man knows about himself only when he is suffering or when he is enjoying life. (Eckermann 10.4.1829)

    But Goethe spoke about our soul, while Sun Tzu speakes about the soul only as one of the logistic conditions. I guess his book cannot really tell us very much on asymmetric war. One should read it asking oneself, which up-dating his book needs for our specific situation.

    So, what happens if I know my enemy, but do not know myself?



  2. It´s strange that east german government knew everything about their enemy: West Germany. And simultaneously they supposed understanding their own body as well, due to a most carefully constructed espionage system.
    It’s a question of opening your mind to get complete knowledge and that is, obviously, not easy.

  3. @cs

    Brilliant observation. They knew about theirselve only at the end, in the moment of pain.

  4. When can we say, we know ourselves? Isn't this a never-ending learning process?

    If we truly knew ourselves (and our enemies), we wouldn't go to war.

    As a metaphor for our personal growth battles with selfishness, obsession and addiction...this is a mighty fine piece of insight.