Control of the Enemy

Temperance 11/19/2019

I heard years ago that a long lost aunt went off and married the outlaw John Wesley Hardin. When this brought to my attention, I was curious to learn more about the guy who was said to have shot through a wall to kill a man for snoring too loudly.

To learn more about this outlaw, I read the book John Wesley Hardin Texas Gunman by Lewis Nordyke. This was a fascinating story about a man who didn’t seek trouble, but somehow always got into it. The most impressive thing that I learned from reading the book was that Hardin was one of the fastest to draw a pistol.

A post-Civil War outlaw in Texas had to be fast, but it was more than speed that was required. His senses had to be tuned in all the time. He had to be aware of his surroundings. He had to assess the potential threat of any enemies. He had to be ready. Just like I was told in the Army, “Stay alert, stay alive.” Hardin had to live his life always on guard from any potential threat. Though he may have believed he was retired as a gunman, in the end he didn’t follow his own rules. One night he turned his back to a window while playing a game of pool. He was shot in the back by a man out on the street.

The Japanese samurai Miyamoto Musashi, understood the same perils.  The ronin was famous for his ability with a sword. His skill was forged in combat. The more he fought, the greater his reputation. Challengers seeking to prove they were the best travelled from all over to test themselves against him.

A gunman and a samurai. They came from two different eras but were both cut from the same warrior cloth. There was no denying that the enemy was looking for them. Their survival depended on:

  • knowing their surroundings and how they could use it to their advantage,
  • knowing their enemies and how to control them by putting them at the disadvantage.

If you do not control the enemy, the enemy will control you. –Miyamoto Musashi

Who is your enemy today? Is it a person? Is it internal or external? Though I am always looking out for potential threats, my biggest enemies today are coming not from people but from things. My enemies are vying to steal my attention, to make me soft, or to keep me from pursuing my dreams. The enemy could come in the form of a lack of discipline, an overindulgence of unhealthy food and alcohol, or an electronic device wasting my time. My success in life is dependent on the same survival tactics of the warriors of old. I have to know my surroundings and know my enemy. I have to stay alert. When I let my guard down or put myself into a defenseless position, then the enemy will come.

Ice cream is a good example. If I buy it and put it in the freezer, I am going to eat it. I can’t help myself. I will try to practice restraint, but then my defenses will eventually weaken. I will get bored and the thought of eating it will enter my mind. I will begin to obsess over it until there is nothing else I can think about. The enemy wrapped in sugar and cream will win out.  By buying the ice cream, I gave the enemy the advantage of the surroundings and the control. I was not going to win.

Consider today what is holding you back. Identify the enemy and understand the terrain in which it likes to operate. Figure out a way to gain control, so that it does not control you.

Take Control

Control. Do you give much thought to it? What is in your control? What is not?

Take for an example your body. The unknown condition growing within you was more from chance than from neglect. Was this in your control? Of course not. Exercising every day with a good diet didn’t stop the tumor. It just, as far as anyone knows, happened.

Or what about the weather? It wasn’t your doing that caused the storm and the landslide that wiped out your home and possessions. Random chance. No gods conspiring against you. It just happened.

So many things that are out of our control, but even during the most chaotic times, we can always be in control of one thing. Our minds.

The stoics were big on this: We can control the things within our control. And for all the things that are not in our control, at least we can control our minds and how we deal with it.

We don’t always get a fair shake. That’s life. So how do you respond? Do you get angry? Do you give up? Do you shake your fist at God and blame Him for your problems? You are one of a billion with countless others that have gone before you and countless more to come, yet you think the universe has singled you out and dealt you these cards?

It just happened, as it happens to many others in some fashion or another. We take the cards we are dealt. We can’t change the cards; they are not in our control. What is in our control? How we play the game. You can fold at every hand or you can play. Control what you can control. And if everything is out of control, rest assured, that your mind is your own and that is something you can always control. Take control.

Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. -Epictetus