“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.”
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
I don’t generally like to rely on the quotes of others to make a point, but Sun Tzu makes my point for me. These words are pretty much precisely what I’ve been getting at these past couple weeks, specifically with regard to my steps toward a New America.
Step One: Know thyself.
Step Two: Know thine enemy.
Now, although this quote one of the more oft-utilized passages from this highly-regarded piece of literature, it doesn’t really do the book itself justice. Because Tzu spends much more time in the book talking about a third item. Knowing Your Environment.
In a physical war, this mean things like finding the high ground or a narrow passageway or knowing where your enemy might be able to hide. It means knowing all of your options, but also knowing all of those available to your enemy.
In the philosophical war, there’s a different type of environment.
The mind…or, more specifically, perspective.
And just like you would want to change your environment if it will improve your chances in overcoming the enemy, you might need to change your perspective if it is poor-equipped for the conversation we need to start today.
It’s incredibly easy to get stuck inside your own perspective in the modern world. Although we are able to communicate with anyone across the globe at the touch of a smart phone, we tend to stay within our own safe little circles.
And I really can’t argue with the want to do that. It’s far easier to surround ourselves with people we agree with. It’s definitely much more pleasant. Why go out of your way to interact purely with people you have a completely different perspective from? It’s easy to feel as though you’re not even speaking the same language when interacting with people from different cultures, backgrounds, religions, races, income levels, et cetera.
The problem here is that when we only surround ourselves with like-minded people, it’s very easy to fall into the trap that those who disagree with you are wrong, purely on the fact that they are different.
But even if we allow that there could be a possibility that we might be in the wrong, that doesn’t necessarily remove the feelings that others are also in the wrong. More often than not, we put them as being MORE in the wrong than us.
Steps One and Two seek to address this part of the issue. To realize that we ourselves may be in the wrong, while also learning more about the perspective of those we believe to be wrong.
Step Three is the personal application of Steps One and Two.
While starting this post off with a quote from The Art of War might lead you to believe I’m suggesting you consider those you find “different” than you to be the enemy, I’m actually pressing for the opposite.
Step Three is about allowing our new-found knowledge to inform our conversation. To allow it to change us, to inform our beliefs, to inform our decisions, and ultimately to change our perspective.
Now, I’m not suggesting that simply by talking to someone who has a different perspective than you, you should change “teams”. But what I’m suggesting is that you might be able to realize where they’re coming from.
The important thing here is to take away your own perspective for a second, take away what you might think or know about the matter at hand entirely, so you can see exactly how a person from a different part of the conversation sees things.
You might still disagree, but you need to understand. You must understand and recognize that there are reasons that person has taken up a different part of the argument and allow yourself to recognize that, at least to them, those reasons are completely valid. Then you take that new knowledge and apply it to your own knowledge.
Your perspective on the topic itself might not change, but your perspective on your “enemy” should.
Now here’s the thing. If you’ve changed your perspective. If you’ve come to the understanding that those you disagree with actually possibly have reasons behind what they think outside of simply them being wrong, you now have new ammunition. The conversation can change.
No longer does the conversation have to be as polarized as “Free Healthcare!”/”Socialism!”. Maybe it can become more nuanced. Maybe it can become a discussion about how health insurance, by its very nature, is a form of socialism. That there are many reasons the system might work better, should everyone be required to have health insurance. Or maybe not… Or, that if you take away the insurance company’s ability to preclude people from coverage because of pre-existing conditions, but don’t require them to have insurance, then they will only need to get insurance when they are ill or injured, meaning that health insurance will no longer be insurance, but an easy payout.
More importantly, this discussion about something as broken as the American health care industry (something a majority of Americans agree is broken) is much more intricate than simple ideals.
And you see, that’s the bigger issue at hand here. The debate between Republicans and Democrats operates on a very black and white scale. But the reality about running a government, about governing a country, is that there is a lot more gray involved.
Are there people on welfare and abusing it? Certainly.
Are there people who rely on welfare due to means outside of their control? Most definitely.
The answer then, is somewhere between where the conversation has been. It’s not about one way or the other. It’s about what’s best for the American people as a whole people. About what we can do, together, to move forward. To be stronger. (And yes, I realize that sounds an awful lot like a certain Democrat’s campaign slogan, but I promise you this is not an advocation for Ms. Clinton).
Here’s the thing, folks. We need to get outside of our comfort zones. We need to see the rest of the world. We need to know that what works best for us, might not be what works best for everyone. We need to also know that what we think might work best for everyone, might not be what others think might work best for everyone.
We need to realize that the truth lies somewhere between conservatives and liberals. That the truth lies with the people.
And we need to change our perspective to include as many different Americans as we can before we can say, definitively, that we have the only answers to “save our country”.
Because what America needs right now is a conversation. Not tolerance. But an outright realization that the primary thing which divides us is disagreement in how to best run this country. This isn’t good verses evil, but a difference, primarily, in opinion.
(Before you get up in arms, yes, I realize that your side of the discussion may be based in facts, but the other side obviously doesn’t see it the same way as you…meaning not everyone agrees on these facts)
Of course…there are still moments where a conversation isn’t enough…but that’s Step Four. Which just so happens to be the intended conclusion to this series…