we all experience an internal struggle, a sort of tension. It’s the tension between what we believe and how we act. Between our ambitions and our procrastination. Between our desire to see things done right, efficiently and, most of all, for the good reasons and our inability to be our better selves.
Even if you are alone you wage war with yourself.Dejan Stojanovic, The Sun Watches the Sun
This struggle has many names: philosophers and gurus explored its many facets and assigned different ones over the course of the last… well, I think more than 10.000 years! The “moral question”, the “war of art”, “inner drive”, “good wolf vs bad wolf”, “personal angel vs personal devil”, “Yin and Yang”, “God vs Satan”, “to-do list against Netflix”, you name it.
Sometimes this war is reflected in the exterior world around you. At times you cannot resolve your internal struggle without winning the external battle first. Can you try to express your better self in an environment if a significant part of the people around you act against good and better? No, you can’t, and the first obvious step is to try to get people on board with your view. You need to explain your point of view, to engage people, to turn lazy, sloppy, demotivated people into enthusiastic flag-bearers of the good cause!
Yeah, right. But..
…this post deal with when this advisable, wise, time-proven and honourable tactic fails. You encounter people that act with bad intentions, that don’t listen and that don’t understand that in the long run, their actions will wreak havoc on your mutual venture.
You are about to enter an open, although undeclared, war now: what do you do? Please keep in mind that the word war is used in this context softly! No physical threats, no harsh manners, no offences. I find useful to use the term “war” because it triggers into me a sense of urgency, high stakes, responsibility for myself and others. In this regard, Gandhi was waging a furious war. Mandela was at war too. Doctor Semmelweis was on a crusade.
I have some ideas about what to do, at least what to think about. It’s not much for a complete plan, although something to start with:
Stop searching for the silver bullet. No magical trick will take down the enemy in one shot. No werewolf to be taken down by silver, no vampire defeated by garlic and sunlight, no atom bomb to turn the tables upside down. I enjoyed a sentence that I just read in “The hard thing about hard things” by Ben Horowitz: there is no silver bullet, but a lot of lead bullets. I can do that. I can struggle and compete for extended periods of times. I can wear off my enemy. I can show what is right over and over again until my adversaries either get on board enthusiastically or die out of sheer boredom! Be prepared to fight a long fight, Blitzkriegs rarely work. You do not want to gain Poland in one week, but ultimately lose everything in six years (sorry Adolf!).
Get as many people as you can on your side of the struggle. List every person that could help you, who has the same beliefs, and that is ready to sacrifice something for the greater good. You can go with two over three: identify which one of these traits is missing and find a way to instil it, person by person. If needed, tell them explicitly that you feel like you are marching to battle! Stir them up, force a reaction, make it clear that you are focused and intense in pursuing your goal.
Avoid mercenaries. You need motivation in your team and a sense of higher purpose. Stay away from people acting out of self-interest and immediate reward because, as you may imagine, there could be none (except satisfaction for having done the right thing in spite of everything else around you). Mercenaries are there for salary and are the first ones to surrender when things turn bleak. Even worse, they could start working for your enemy!
Develop an eye for deserters. Whenever there is a call to arms, many will respond enthusiastically. The problem is, they may be the first to bail out the wagon when things go south. Search for persistence and motivation when building your army.
Prepare yourself to lose. The Code of Bushido, the way of the samurai, tell us to act with death always in our mind so that every action can be directed correctly. Luckily we are not in a life-or-death situation, but moving as if the stakes were high and real can give powerful motivation and reduce compromises. Now that we mention them, be aware that they can make you win and lose the war at the same exact moment: you win because you defeat your opponent, but you lose since your point was to show a right way of doing things, not how to compromise and cut corners. In the war for acting well, to win you need to win big.
What I still don’t know is if and when to declare war. Can it be that the best move is to make a step back, think about what our “enemies” and we have in common and regroup together toward mutual benefit, another external threat, or the common good? Can it be that in writing the above paragraphs I was too hasty and let myself drift toward action instead of thinking?
I like to think that making peace is the best possible outcome. Believe that it can be achieved. Believe that the ultimate winning is gained by avoiding everyone’s losing.
I was born to join in love, not hate – that is my nature.
I have a better vision now.
I have a more difficult plan.
Until next time, I will concentrate on execution.