Make Hay while the Sun Shines – with Plato, Epictetus and Sun Tzu

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The Half Full and Half Empty Glass

“… Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been associated with long delays…”

Excerpt from 

The Art of War 

Sun Tzu

The failure to seize opportunities when they come is almost akin to a crime against humanity. Grand scale catastrophes have occurred because of failure to make the best use of opportunities. This is true at individual/personal levels as it is at institutional level. Procrastination, be it in the name of “planning” or trying to follow “due process” may appear wise at the initial stage, but often just leaves one telling stories of how “after all the planning, this and that never happened!” Many countries especially in the African region, suffer under-development, not only because of corruption which has become the anthem, but oftentimes, because many do not realize this simple fact succinctly captured by Sun Tzu in his Art of War.

Chief among the causes of procrastination are a lack of capacity, which is self-explanatory – the fellows in this category (for a particular situation) cannot just comprehend the opportunity, and trying to make them comprehend will be like getting a donkey to fly. Next is fear. Because most of the greatest opportunities lie in uncharted territories, the mind begins to play some tricks, trying to rationalize mediocrity. Hear Plato:  

One, he said, of which I could not expect easily to convince others. For let me tell you, Socrates, that when a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here were once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true: either from the weakness of age, or because he is now drawing nearer to that other place, he has a clearer view of these things; suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins to reflect and consider what wrongs he has done to others. And when he finds that the sum of his transgressions is great he will many a time like a child start up in his sleep for fear, and he is filled with dark forebodings. But to him who is conscious of no sin, sweet hope, as Pindar charmingly says, is the kind nurse of his age:”

Excerpt From

The Republic

Plato

“Such then, I said, are our principles of theology—some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upwards, if we mean them to honour the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another.

Yes; and I think that our principles are right, he said.

But if they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons besides these, and lessons of such a kind as will take away the fear of death? Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?

Certainly not, he said.

And can he be fearless of death, or will he choose death in battle rather than defeat and slavery, who believes the world below to be real and terrible?

Impossible.

Then we must assume a control over the narrators of this class of tales as well as over the others, and beg them not simply to revile but rather to commend the world below, intimating to them that their descriptions are untrue, and will do harm to our future warriors.

That will be our duty, he said.

“Then, I said, we shall have to obliterate many obnoxious passages, beginning with the verses,

‘I would rather be a serf on the land of a poor and portionless man than rule over all the dead who have come to nought.”

Excerpt From

The Republic

Plato

The good news is that all hope is not lost, as capacity can be built and fear driven out. For one to build capacity, humility and honest self-assessment are requirements. To drive out fear, hear Epictetus:

“… So now if you should come and tell us: “Fearful is the state of affairs at Rome; terrible is death; terrible is exile; terrible is calumny; terrible is poverty; fly, my friends, the enemy is near,” we shall answer: “Begone, prophesy for yourself; we have committed only one fault, that we sent such a scout.” 

Diogenes, who was sent as a scout before you, made a different report to us. He says that death is no evil, for neither is it base; he says that fame (reputation) is the noise of madmen. And what has this spy said about pain, about pleasure, and about poverty? He says that to be naked is better than any purple robe, and to sleep on the bare ground is the softest bed; and he gives as a proof of each thing that he affirms his own courage, his tranquility, his freedom, and the healthy appearance and compactness of his body. There is no enemy near, he says; all is peace. How so, Diogenes? “See,” he replies, “if I am struck, if I have been wounded, if I have fled from any man.” This is what a scout ought to be. But you come to us and tell us one thing after another. Will you not go back, and you will see clearer when you have laid aside fear?…”

Excerpts From

The discourses of Epictetus (Translated by George Long)

Believe! Be courageous!! Succeed!!!

Dr Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher

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