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Think Lightly of Yourself

Every once in a while I leaf through the pages of “The Book of Five Rings” by legendary 17th century samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi. This text, famous for the way it brings together philosophy and strategy, is where I sometimes turn to when seeking some pidasun finayi, or fragments of wisdom. For example, when I find myself at a crossroads in terms of activism, or needing a hint of guidance on how to approach some aspect of community engagement, empowerment or consciousness raising, I find that Musashi sometimes has some great, profound, sometimes vague insights.

Several years ago, during the ideologically turbulent DEIS comment period on the Guam military buildup, I found some solace through Musashi’s notion that you should (in Chamorro) “Tungo’ i enimigu-mu, tungo’ i sapblå-ña.” Or, in English, “Know your enemy, know his sword.”

Part of the wisdom of this quote is that in order to defeat your enemy, in order to counter him, it is not enough to hate him. Ti nahong na un chatli’e’ gui’ pat ti ya-mu gui’. You have to know him, and his sword, which is another way of referring to his soul, his essence, in order to defeat him. The distaste for something can often act as a screen, making you feel like you know everything about it even when you actually know very little. Hate can bring you to a battle and it can convince you that you can win, but it will always make you misjudge things and miss key elements. If you rely on such superficial tactics when dealing with anything you are doomed to failure, since the situation itself, your position and your opponent’s lies far outside of your grasp of understanding.

In the ideological battle over the buildup, We Are Guahan was successful in part because of this notion. Their greatest strength was not “hating the buildup” or “hating the military.” Their greatest strength came in knowing their enemy’s sword, knowing what its own weapon was in the fight, and finding ways to use it against them. In this ideological battle, the weapon with which the Department of Defense was stuck using was the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for their proposed buildup.

Critics of the buildup could have simply countered pro-buildup (military moalek!) rhetoric with their own (military båba!), but instead chose to use the words of the DEIS to full effect. During public comment meetings, signs with quotes from the DEIS adorned the walls, showing people the truth of what the DOD held in their hands. The DEIS, while at first imposing in its sheer amount of pages and its multimillion dollar price tag, was clearly riddled with weaknesses when studied carefully. There was plenty of it cut and paste sections, parts of it plagiarized, so much of it rushed and inadequate and above all not tied to any real fundamental planning. From a distance the DEIS appeared like a imposing, impossible to stop sword. From up close, spider web like cracks were everywhere on its blade, just waiting to be exploited and used against the wielder.

The lawsuit over the selection of Pågat and Route 15 as the site for a firing range complex was a clear example for this. The decision by DOD to voluntarily provide a supplemental environmental impact statement over where to put their five firing ranges clearly demonstrates the flaws in the DEIS and the possibility that if taken to court over their justification, they would have lost.

Another sen fehman na sinangan that I’ve taken from Musashi is, “respect the Gods, but do not rely on them for help.” For me this means that those things that we assume exist out there to keep things ordered, to keep the world spinning and to keep the rest of the world that you don’t immediately see around you safe, we should always respect them, but be careful how much faith you have in them. It is always nice and comforting to believe in a higher power, but how much life is lost and how much death is created in this world because of the assumption of something greater as catching and collecting up all the shattered and wasted souls. Or in another way, it is comforting to think of God in your corner, but you should never expect God to fight your fight for you.

With a new year just beginning and plenty of new challenges around, I came across this quote, which will be the one I carry with me in the coming year.

“Think lightly of yourself, and deeply of the world.”

Reflect for a moment on this quote, and think how it might apply to your own life.

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