In the first part of my previous post I was quoting Balthasar Gracian on the importance of diligence before executing an action. I was also mentioning the fact that it can happen to come upon seemingly contradictory advice in different sources. In this post we will see the other side of the coin, the importance of quick decision making and celerity.
I noticed in Chinese and Japanese literature the emphasis on swiftness over diligence as a way of war and as a philosophy of life. Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, is a collection of thoughts and commentaries about Bushido, the warrior code of the samurai. As characterized in this book, Bushido is seen more as the “Way of Dying” rather than the “Way of Living”, the samurai thinking of himself as being already dead and ready to serve his master, the daimyo, at any moment’s notice. There are plenty of stories told in the book of samurai warriors sacrificing their lives for their master and his property. The samurai has no second thoughts when it comes to making the ultimate sacrifice.
The Way of the Samurai is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong. (Hagakure -Yamamoto Tsunetomo)
The Way of the Samurai instructs the samurai not only to act with immediacy but that he should also be “brave and joyous”:
When meeting calamities or difficult situations, it is not enough to simply say that one is not at all flustered. When meeting difficult situations, one should dash forward bravely and with joy. It is the crossing of a single barrier and is like the saying, «The more the water, the higher the boat.» (Hagakure -Yamamoto Tsunetomo)
The Way of the Samurai instructs the samurai to continually improve himself and sharpen his skills:
Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending. (Hagakure -Yamamoto Tsunetomo)
We can see now why the Way of the Samurai is one of immediacy, whatever the samurai does “should be done for the sake of your master and parents, the people in general, and for posterity”, he spends all his life preparing for the moment in which he can achieve his purpose, if he can’t respond with swiftness and agility when this time comes than all his training and skill goes to waste, he brings dishonor upon himself. Those quick decisions and action taking come after a lifetime of learning and preparation.
This reminds me about an episode in Picasso’s life: a woman comes to him and asks him to draw her portrait, he agrees and takes a few moments to study her and with a few quick movements draws her portrait. She is impressed with the outcome and asks how much it costs. “$5000”. “But why? You only took a few moments to draw it.”, to which Picasso replies: “Madam, it took me my entire life.”
Such is the Way of the Samurai. It takes an entire lifetime to deliver swift action.
I was mentioning Chinese and Japanese literature. Well, this culture of immediacy can be noticed in Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War. I believe that Sun Tzu and his book are widely known, there is no need to introduce them.
When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.
In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
To the soldier, overwhelming speed is of paramount importance, and he must never miss opportunities. Now is the time to strike, before Hsiao Hsien even knows that we have got an army together. If we seize the present moment when the river is in flood, we shall appear before his capital with startling suddenness, like the thunder which is heard before you have time to stop your ears against it. (The Art of War – Sun Tzu)
What is life if not an ongoing battle from the moment you are born to the moment you die? We can draw a parallel between war and life and say that, as in war, let your great object in life be victory and the achievement of goals not lengthy, procrastinating campaigns. Sun Tzu knew psychology and knew what motivates men, you can’t keep men motivated for too long while they are in siege mode, dug in their trenches and waiting for the enemy to starve, to give up and surrender. When it comes to laying siege to goals there is no shame and dishonor if they surrender too quickly and the battle too easy, the resources needed to keep the siege going become available for the next siege. For the bigger, more entrenched goals that don’t want to surrender that easily there are two approaches: motivation, morale and resources need to be kept going, this can become quite costly so that fortress, that goals it’s better be worth conquering; the other approach is finding ways to end the battle quickly through trickery, deception and inventiveness, mine beneath the towers and the walls so they came tumbling down, pretend to give up and to return to your boats while living behind a wooden horse (like the Greeks did against Troy), offer to raise the siege if you are given 1000 cats and swallows (tactic used by Genghis Khan, he set burning banners and torches on their tails and the animals raced back to the city setting it on fire), throw dead animals over the walls with catapults. Of course, you don’t have to start looking for sparrows and dead animals in order to achieve your goals but you get the idea.