If a Battle Can’t be Won, Don’t Fight It. — Sun Tzu

This is likely hard-earned advice from the military general born in 544 B.C. who wrote the Art of War. This month we have been addressing the challenging topic of conflict. In our digital subscription, we addressed the fundamental flaw in thinking about conflict, which is summed up in the above quote: that the purpose of conflict is to win. In truth, successfully navigating conflict isn’t about winning, but rather about gaining an increase in understanding, cooperation, and safety.

There are times, as Sun Tzu correctly points out, that a fight should never have begun in the first place. I think all of us can recall arguments with loved ones that should never have occurred. In Sun Tzu’s vernacular: they weren’t battles worth fighting.

However, the deeper questions of conflict must be addressed in each of us. What do we wish to achieve by conflict? Hopefully, the answer is not “to win,” but instead something more directly tied to our emotional state involved in the matter – like a desire to be understood. If this is the case, then conflict shouldn’t even be viewed as winning or losing, but as how mutual peace and benefit is obtained. In this way, we can “pick our battles” with integrity, knowing that peace begets peace.

This is not to say that one should never engage in conflict – even conflict that likely has no positive outcome. Throughout all human history, there have been injustices that needed to be challenged—fights that, though unlikely to end well, needed to be fought. Sometimes it is our obligation to enter conflict on behalf of another to preserve fundamental human rights and dignity—regardless of the probability of success. We must trust our inner voice to tell us when and how we are to engage. With so many conflicts in the world, take careful thought in choosing what you invest yourself in. Remember that the goal should always remain the same: understanding, cooperation, and safety—for everyone involved. Coming to necessary conflict with a heart at peace, as opposed to a heart a war, will ensure that regardless of the outcome, we can claim success. And let us not forget that the ends never justify the means. We must hold ourselves accountable for the way we engage in conflict and always seek for greater emotional clarity and maturity in our actions.

Equally important to engaging is knowing when to let go. Ask yourself if it’s time to reevaluate something that you’ve been engaged in that is emotionally compromising you (i.e., Is it destroying your soul? Eating away at your happiness?). It is often through these moments of surrender that I have found the most peace.  

When discussing conflict, let us choose, not as military strategists do — to win wars — but instead to gain peace.