Thursday, March 5, 2009

the art of war


barry boyce spent 10 years working with a team translating an ancient chinese book into english. no one on the team spoke any chinese, but never mind. they had the chinese book - the art of war - in one hand, and a long list of possible english translations for each word in the other. and so slowly, word by word, they turned it from chinese into english.

boyce also co-wrote the rules of victory, lessons learned from the art of war.

barry, it may not surprise you to learn, is a buddhist, part of the halifax shambhala community. he's a great big man who looks and sounds like penn from penn & teller (and he swears about as often). it's hard to picture him folding his sprawling person into a lotus position, but he does seem to have gotten to the heart of the art of war. he was talking about it at the latest blowhard presents evening at fred. the theme was enemies.

he compared a good military to a fire department: trained professionals who will risk their skin to protect others. fire fighters don't provoke fires, or preemptively douse a house in water, just in case it ever thinks about catching on fire. they just put it out as effectively as they can.

he noted that the art of war was composed as a military manual back in the day in china because neighbouring tribes kept going to war over land, only to discover after winning or losing the war that there weren't enough peasants left to farm the land, because they were all buried in it.

there is only one world, but many views of it, he said. he brought a selection of magazines illustrating how rural hrm and urban hrm see nature. on the one hand, Lake magazine - people who visit nature once a year and want tranquility. on the other hand, ATV weekly - people who live in 'nature' and want to have loud, obnoxious fun in it. one world, two views: they're going to clash.

to find a good solution, boyce said you need to retreat to the biggest point of view possible. not yours, not theirs, and not just how others might see it, but from way above, as if you had no interest in it. then, you can see a solution that will (maybe) appeal to your enemy, and work to your advantage.

"to be able to transform with the enemy is what is meant to be spirit-like," boyce concluded.

then he told a story about how he had recently found himself on an elevator with jack layton, the federal ndp leader. i meet layton a couple of weeks ago! anyway, boyce was trying to work up the nerve to talk to jack, but failing to, thereby leaving a silence in the lift. then, jack let rip a big, boisterous fart.

'we're all just trying to regular people,' the mustachioed one said.

i have no idea what that had to do with being friends or enemies, but it made everyone laugh.

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