Volume 17 Number 6
The Book That Chose Me
01 December 2004
An ancient book about war gives Dalia Braverman practical hints on living today.
I TOOK THE last sips of my Evian water, paid my bill and left the restaurant. I wanted to walk: I’ve always loved Madrid in autumn.
I went up a small road crossing La Gran Via (high street), looking at the shoe and other shops. Suddenly I found a kind of open market, with books, piled high. A sheet of paper said that each cost three Euros—I found it hard to believe my luck! I’ve always thought that we are not the ones who choose the books we read: it is the books which choose us.
I stopped among the displays, opening a book from time to time, and carelessly let one book drop. So I knew: that was the book I had to buy.
It was called The Art of War. Funny, I thought, to call warmaking an art. It seems that we not only accept war as part of everyday life, but see it as art—is that a euphemism? Or has war got another side to it?
I paid the bill, found a seat and started to read. The Art Of War by Sun Tzu.
It was a shock to know that Sun Tzu, a Chinese General, wrote The Art of War around 2,500 years ago. He was trying to systematize military strategies. Right to our times, it is still considered an excellent reference book on the subject.
As I read, I thought that the strategy outlined by the author could be applied in many areas of life, not just in battle.
Sun Tzu’s thesis is based on selfknowledge, like the words placed by the seven wise men at the gates of the Oracle of Delphi: nosce te ipsum or ‘know yourself’. The ‘art of war’ is to look inside yourself, to understand who we are and why we are here.
By chance, if that is what it was, I read this book at a time of personal transition, when I had to take important decisions. The ‘art of war’ led me to ask myself about my enemies. To my surprise, in the back of my brain one name kept coming again and again. It was an enemy so powerful it was able to paralyse me, time and again. I know him well—fear—and fear’s face is mine.
What can we do about the enemy we carry inside ourselves? The enemy who knows our ways and who follows every step we take, who shows up at the crucial moment and, very often, defeats us?
I decided to work out a strategy against this enemy inside myself, based on Sun Tzu’s text.
I discovered that fear is a strong opponent because it knows us intimately and is part of us, since it wells up from our deepest instincts.
If fear’s strategy—and strength —is to know us, the counterstrategy without any doubt must be to understand fear, through knowing our true selves. In this way, we arrive at what Sun Tzu tells us: ‘Get to know your enemy, get to know yourself. That way you will get to know the whole universe.’
This timeless word, coming from many centuries ago, is the key to the whole book. The study of war can show the way to the good fight; to combatting our fears and illusions. It can show the way to truth and to the quest of mankind since the beginning of time. Knowing ourselves, and everything around us, is a task which demands the most of us.
‘You also must change’ is a wise word, which illustrates a sublime concept. Some use such words to get on in business, others to launch sound politics. But some of us simply want to use the analysis to win our own battle, to win the daily struggle to defeat fear in those deep corners within each of us.