The art of war – Part II

If I had a chance to meet the Chinese master Sun Tzu, I would have asked him a simple question: “How do you wait until it is the right moment?” Because if your sense of dignity, self-worth, hence your mental health and very survival depend on fighting back, then when you cannot fight, for one reason or another (it could be the wrong moment; it could be the wrong war; it could be a just war with no winners), you will feel emasculated, even castrated to use the psychoanalytic jargon. I am not a big fan of either Freud or Lacan, so I will not bore you with things that I do not believe in myself – i.e. the castration complex.

But there is a sense in which the feeling I experience when I cannot fight back for what I “perceive to be” a just cause resembles castration. I cannot fight against cancer for instance. I am doing anything in my power to keep my loved one alive, but I know that this may well be not enough. There were times when it was indeed not enough. I did experience the agonizing sense of helplessness, the desperation Andy Whelan has so eloquently described watching his loved one, the little yet stoic Jessica, suffer at the hands of the beast. And this makes me angry. I feel like exploding in fury and frustration; I want to scream as loud as I can, as if to reach God/the universe, “this is not fair, this is not fair”. Instead, I implode.

And you cannot fight when you feel, or really are, weak. If your enemy possesses “superior strength, evade him” the wise master of art said centuries ago. Cancer, for now at least, is of superior strength. It comes in different guises. Sometimes it takes the form of childhood cancer; at other times it splits into two and implants itself into different organs of another loved one. It develops resistance to new forms of treatment; it hides under the cloak of other diseases to prevent defeat. It does seem to be familiar with the master’s guidelines as well; it is “extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness … extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness.”

Power can take more shallow, more blatant forms as well. Sometimes that which you cannot fight – or not fight yet – is an institution. Sometimes it is an individual like you who is protected by vested interests. As with cancer, you know that you cannot fight it, for you would lose. You may wield more power, enjoy more self-satisfaction (than in the fight against cancer), but the price you would be pay will be high. You know that when you are taking on “power”, institutional or individual, you must “Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

So we are back to square one. How does one wait? Where does one get the strength to be patient? And perhaps more importantly, how does one accept defeat? Do you have an answer to this as well, Master?
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