“To think is easy. To act is difficult. To act as one thinks is the most difficult.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goeth
Justice and Peace
For a warrior, justice is the action side of the peace hand. You extend your hand in peace, but if someone does something evil in response you can easily close your hand into a fist. The great Apaches said that the warrior is the last to pick up a lance, but he’s willing to do so and lay down his own life for others to bring justice.
The Dalai Lama said that if a mosquito alights and begins to suck my blood, I don’t need that. I will strike it down. Often people take no action as a way to take a stand. It doesn’t always work. It requires a lot of reflection and a lot of balance to navigate this road. Cultivate peace, but not to the extent that you let someone trample you.
Courage and Commitment
The commitment you have to your mission, team, path and mastery gives you the courage to act. When you act with courage it reinforces your commitment. It requires courage to leave something negative, but it allows you to commit to something better.
Admiral McCraven is a good example of this. As a leader of the SEALs, he committed 10 years to getting Osama Bin Laden. He went through several different roles and positions in that search. It gave him the courage to invest his time, resources, etc… Many were saying Bin Laden was gone and wasn’t worth it. But his courage and commitment reinforced each other until his team finally got their man.
Honor and Truth
Honor is seen in action. My commanding officer was Captain O’Connell. He used to talk about the New York Times test, which is: “If you’re going to take an action and are uncertain, how would you want to read about this if it showed up in the New York Times on Monday?” This helps you guide your behavior to be honorable.
The soft side of honor is truth. Do you tell the truth? Is your truth the real truth? Truth is about being and reflecting your authentic self. Always be working to develop truth and to know truth.
I got in trouble back in 2007. I had a news service. At the same time, I was a Navy SEAL commander in the reserves. During the Iraq war, several people were shot and killed in Ramadi as part of a task unit. I had developed this relationship with a writer who occasionally wrote articles for NavySEALs.com. He wanted to get my perspective of how SEALs were being used in combat.
I said something like, “It’s not my experience, and I wasn’t trained that SEALs are meant to be used in mid-daylight in support of conventional forces. This is why SEALs are getting killed. This is what we were taught. It seems to me that we’re not following our core doctrine, and as a result, there are some deaths. But it’s combat. That’s about the extent. I don’t know much more than that.”
I went out of town and was off-grid, so I didn’t have time to review what he wrote. He came out with an article titled Burning Up SEALs and quoted me by name as a Lieutenant Commander reserve officer. All he kept of my quote was, “It seems to me that we’re not following our core doctrine.”
The SEALs went ballistic. I got called out on the carpet and had to stand in front of a Navy SEAL Captain who ran me up and down the flagpole. I had to apologize for not thinking it through clearly.
It wasn’t honorable of me to get quoted like that. I made a mistake. I hadn’t ascertained this guy’s intentions and didn’t realize the slant of his article. I thought he would quote me anonymously. I didn’t find the truth. Therefore, my actions led to less than honorable results.
It was a big lesson for me. I felt like I’d done a disservice to my team. Even though there were elements of truth in what I said, it wasn’t the truth of the guys who were in the battle. For me to say that SEALs were being used like that wasn’t true. It was my story. The way it was reported made it seem like I was dishonoring their death and service.
These kinds of things happen to everyone. Is what you’re saying or writing really true? It might be true for you but not for someone else. Does that make it true? You need a lot of discipline and reflection to think through that. Really honorable action is grounded in a universal principle or God’s word, energy, etc… It’s easy to mistake your story or reality for truth. When you do, it leads to actions that others can perceive as dishonorable.
Discipline and Joy
Challenging yourself every day to improve, exercise, eat well, sleep well and speak well is discipline. It seems hard, but warriors need discipline. It’s a really important virtue. People think you have to grit your teeth to work out every day, meditate, sleep well and eat well. There’s an element of truth to that in the beginning, but over time the hard part goes away. It becomes easy and enjoyable. That’s the soft side of discipline — joy.
My teammate, Jocko Willink, says that discipline equals freedom in his book Extreme Ownership. I really like that. Disciplining yourself provides the capacity to do the things you really want to. Without it, you’re a slave to your lack of ability.
At the same time, you don’t want to overdo your diet or exercise. Some people get sick in the CrossFit community by trying to be too healthy. It can be an addiction or mental sickness that comes from trying too hard when you get too judgmental and attached to your results.
Discipline should lead to enjoyment and playfulness. True joy gives you fuel to be disciplined. My mentor, Nakamura, was stern and a blackbelt master, but he was very playful, with frequent outbursts of hilarity. He was quick to laugh and the first to tell a joke. The best Navy SEAL instructors were intensely serious and extraordinarily disciplined but super playful and also having a ball at the same time.
You can have both sides of each of these virtue couplets equally at their proper times. It’s uncommon and requires hard work, but that’s your goal. I would be lying if I told you it was easy. In the next lesson, I’ll teach you another skill that will help keep you even closer on your virtuous path up the five mountains…