To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see sun and moon is no sign of great sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.
-Sun Tzu (The Art of War, IV:10)
This verse comes from The Art of War , which was a war manual written by a long family line of Chinese generals discovered in the early 1900’s. You may be wondering about the relevance of ancient war tactics to the modern life. And it is simply this: Though our worldviews may differ, we are all brought into a position of leadership and strategy. This is evident from our broad relationships in society down to the finite ones in our families and close circles of friends. And for Christians, this is even more evidently revealed in God’s Word (Matthew 28:19, Ephesians 6:12). We are destined to lead whether for good or bad (leadership), and to do it well (strategy). To deny these positions of leadership is to deny our innate responsibility as humans. And from what sources can we learn to lead strategically, but the forerunners before us, in this case a family who refined their wisdom into an art form for warfare?
For this verse (and first guest blog post), I want to reflect upon where we obtain truth. Chapter IV in TAOW is titled ‘Dispositions’, or our moods/attitudes. And this verse hits upon the single point of identifying ourselves through the obvious. Just because you can pick up, see, or hear something that is extremely easy and clear to sense upon, doesn’t reveal a great ability of physical feats. We can only identify feats of strength through years of discipline and training. Great strength comes from building power, great sight and hearing comes from learning to differentiate the white noise and trace out what one is looking for. It is a matter of looking beyond the obvious, the experience and training behind the image.
As clear and simple it is understand the proverb in terms of mere physique, it brings about the question of how we understand our world. Do we evaluate others and ourselves on mere appearances alone? If so, how we judge ourselves and others can be simple critiques of what we see. We simply see this group or that idea in terms of right and wrong. Having such a disposition, we may not see truth when we come across it. For we have already blinded ourselves to the possibility of something being wrong. Though the words may communicate something we completely disagree or agree with, truth is also revealed beneath the words that are spoken. At each mouth that opens is a mind, soul, and spirit that drives the words produced. Find the core of what people are saying, and you will understand truth, not necessarily in the sense of understanding right and wrong, but the messages people believe and follow. To take the principle of physical prowess, image and the obvious reveals nothing, but the character that lies below.
I have included below a video of short sound bites from different people trying to communicate an idea. The video sample below isn’t to choose the rightness of one message over the other, but an exercise to extrapolate the message they are actually saying:
Thanks for reading!
(Joel Lee is a contributor for Thoughts of a Post-Grad TwentySomething. Read more of his work at The Wordsmith Apprentice)