Most well adjusted human beings will agree that war is fundamentally destructive to any civilized society. Some wars (like the american civil war) were necessary to extinguish evil in its purest form, while some wars (like Saddam Hussein’s irrational campaign against Kuwait) serve as unfortunate examples of a senseless loss of too many lives at the whim of an idiotic egomaniac with too much power. Regardless of its root cause, war often forces a fundamental change in the world at large as its reverberations are felt far beyond the borders of the countries in which it is fought. A good example of this is how the destruction caused by the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the world to realize that the threat of nuclear war had to be minimized because its potential for destruction was so great. Wars take a heavy toll on the infrastructure of the countries in which they are fought, and perhaps an even heavier toll on the psyche of the people that are touched by its many battles. Although war can bring many hardships and difficulties, it can also serve many fundamentally important purposes. It is strange to think of it that way, but if you are able to take a sufficiently removed emotional distance, you will see that war also has its “upside”. For example, war can indirectly serve as a very effective way to check population growth, ensuring that the surviving factions of humanity don’t eventually all starve to death as a result of having too many mouths to feed. War can also serve as a very powerful means of re-setting counterproductive ways of thinking that have spread through a given society or group of people. For example, the american civil war served as a big “reset button” that ultimately and forcefully altered the mindset amongst 19th century tobacco and cotton plantation owners in Northern America. Although it remains amongst the bloodiest and most gory of all wars fought by man, the american civil war served the essential purpose of permanently altering the mindset that promoted the evil of slavery.
Like you and I, the average person is probably familiar with the form of war that occurs on a macro scale such as the American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865) or the Nigerian Civil War (July 6, 1967 – January 15, 1970). When we think of the word “war”, our minds immediately associate it with missiles, apache helicopters, automatic rifles and other weapons that can end a lot of lives frighteningly quickly while causing severe damage to the affected countries. This brand of war has been fought for many centuries over many issues by various members of our species. Humans have gone to war with each other over things at varying levels of practical importance such as land, power, race, and differences in religious or political opinion to name a few. Although each of the wars recorded in the annals of history are unique in their own right, they generally all share certain characteristics that we can enumerate fairly clearly:
- There is a cause or reason why the war is being fought… rational or not.
- There is often a villain to rail against.
- The more strategic and patient general usually wins
- Most of these wars are fought on the time scale of years.
As it turns out, these general characteristics of warfare can teach each of us something essential on our individualized lifelong personal development journeys. You might be wondering what on earth living your everyday life has to do with all out warfare, but I think you will come to see that life itself is very analogous to war in many respects.
As most people over the age of 30 with enough worldly experience will generally admit, life itself is a form of war. For the rest of both of our natural lives, you and I will continually experience obstacles and challenges that stand in the way of our most cherished ideals. You might have career goals that you would like to accomplish, relationships and businesses you would like to build, and perhaps even a family you’d like to raise. All this sounds great from the standpoint of having direction in life, but in reality, you will continually encounter people and circumstances that will attempt to block your path to personal fulfillment. Jealous people will use underhanded tactics in an attempt to keep you from reaching your full potential… someone who is a bad fit for you will try to manipulate you into marrying them… people will try to take your hard earned money away from you… and even members of your own family may do things that make your path to success a lot more difficult than it otherwise should be. All of this sounds a bit bleak, but it is much better in the long run to get a cold upfront dose of reality than it is to carry on pretending the world is all sunshine and rainbows. If you ignore reality for too long, a stern experience will inevitably jolt you out of your trance and that might demoralize you past the point of learning the appropriate lesson from the experience. It should be mentioned here that swinging to the other extreme end of the spectrum and adopting a paranoid mindset is just as bad as adopting an overtly naive mindset. If you embrace and ultimately connect to reality however, you can prepare yourself to defend against and overcome the inevitable adverse periods that will come your way.
The natural human response to any form of adversity is to get emotional and overreact. All of us have succumbed to this fundamental human flaw at some point in our lives, and I am no exception. The cruel cosmic joke here is that these times of adversity (when you are most prone to get overly emotional and overreact) are the same exact times you need to be the most calm. From everyday experience, we all know that the best results in life rarely come from rash acts conducted in a fit of anger or panic. Rather, the best things in life come as a result of careful strategic planning and a heavy dose of patience. In life (just as it is with warfare), it is often the most strategic and patient generals that come out on top. Emotional energy may get you through one or two relatively meaningless battles, but it is carefully executed strategic planning that will ultimately win the war.
It is of critical importance for the lot of us to master patient strategic planning in order to win the most essential of all wars: the war which each individual wages with him or herself. Although we discussed the various external obstacles that may hinder us on our path to fulfillment, it is ultimately the strength of your character that will determine if you remain permanently hindered, or find a way to overcome and press on. This strength of character isn’t something that is given to a select preordained few at birth. On the contrary, it is something we must all work to develop. One of the most effective ways to develop enough strength of character to continually meet life’s challenges head on is to continually wage war on yourself.
To be clear, waging war on oneself doesn’t involve engaging in war in the literal sense; rather, to wage war on oneself is to constantly create challenges that force us to go in the opposite direction of our respective comfort zones. We must all continually challenge ourselves to be more hardworking, to be more considerate, to better serve others, to be more creative, and so on. To be clear, perfection isn’t the ultimate goal here. Rather, it is the continual improvement of the self, soul, and spirit that is of paramount importance. The general characteristics of warfare stated above can serve as an excellent framework that guides the self improvement war we will both wage for the rest of our lives. Let us expand on the deeper meanings of these general characteristics of war, and how they may apply to your own life.
There is a cause or reason why the war is being fought… rational or not.
Like in actual warfare, it is important to get clear on why you are waging war in your personal life. What are the costs of waging such a war? Do the potential benefits of waging such a war outweigh the risks? How does each war you engage in factor into your overall life plan. Thinking in this way, you will become much more prudent in selecting which battles to fight, and which ones to avoid. For example, disciplining yourself to lose 30lbs of excess fat should probably be a much higher priority than trying to match your neighbor’s new car purchase with a brand new BMW M3 of your own. Being prudent about your battle selection in life will alleviate unnecessary stress and probably redound in a longer and more fulfilled life. At all cost, you must avoid unnecessary or petty battles that wear you out and yield little fruit. They will distract you from what you should really be doing, which is developing into the best version of yourself that your inborn inclinations and talents will allow.
There is often a villain to rail against…
As in war, you as the “general” of your life will come face to face with many adversaries and rivals that you may have to defeat or outsmart in order to advance in life. The biggest rival or villain you will face by far though, is your current self and belief system. Each of our characters, flaws, and beliefs come with a heavy dose of inertia, meaning that we human beings don’t like to change even if we consciously know that the change will be for the better. As you attempt to raise your status at each successive stage of life, you are effectively discarding your current self for a newer and better version. The problem is that your current self has an “ego” and doesn’t want to be discarded. Inevitably, a struggle ensues between your current self, and the improved version you are trying to become. At all cost, you must slay the demon of your current self so that you can continue to ascend to higher and better evolved versions of yourself.
The more strategic and patient general usually wins
Most history buffs among us think of Sun Tzu and Napoleon Bonaparte as masterful gods of large scale war… the ultimate cold bloodedly ruthless strategists that have orchestrated the demise of many enemy armies with what seems like startling ease. In waging war against yourself, you must become as strategic as these Gods of war from times past… carefully plotting and adjusting to circumstances as unexpected events arise on your way to personal fulfillment. This doesn’t mean you have to become like an unemotional robot who feels nothing. Bottling your emotions up is a dangerous game that doesn’t ever seem to work out in the long run. Channeling these emotions in healthy ways though is a brilliant strategic move. For example, instead of bottling up your anger until you uncontrollably lash out at an unsuspecting loved one, you may want to channel that anger into your workout regimen to help you get and stay healthy and fit.
Most of these wars are fought on the time scale of years…
Developing and refining yourself into the best version possible isn’t something that will occur overnight. Like war, it may take you years to secure victory in the form of making the necessary changes to your personality and psyche that will facilitate further growth and accomplishment in your life. Therefore, a significant amount of patience is required if you are to continue on the path to fulfillment. Expect it to take a while because it most likely will. Resist the temptation to lash out in frustration because of slow progress, or to abandon your quest for fulfillment because we’re all going to die and you feel it is worthless to try. It is true that we are all going to die, but that should actually motivate you to make the most of your time here on earth by carefully planning and strategizing about your life’s goals.
A lot of people talk about finding work that you are passionate about as if once you find that, all your problems go away. The truth my friends is that circumstances do not get any easier when you find a craft/job/hobby you’re passionate about. It is just that when you find something to work on that fires you up inside, you will attack it with double the intensity and focus which will help you overcome all the difficulties in your path. I don’t care how much you love music… the first couple of weeks any of us spend learning to play the guitar are incredibly arduous and frustrating. You’ll sound horrible, you’ll feel incompetent, and if you’re like me, your fingers might even bleed. If you are in love though, you will push through until the guitar starts to respond to you and submit to your will. This line of thought is true for anything else you try to master in your life… from relationships, to a hobby, to your vocation. And the biggest obstacle to your success isn’t your external circumstances, or the bad boss that won’t promote you. Your biggest obstacle is yourself in the guise of your fears and limiting beliefs. Like in war, life requires you to strategize carefully, to endure when you need to, and to be patient when required in order to emerge as the ultimate victor in the holiest of all wars you will ever fight – the war against yourself.
Oyolu B.C. Ph.D.
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