A Certainty Principle
Despite the time I take before making a big decision in my life, I revisit such decisions after making them. This tendency to second-guess my decisions can sometimes be crippling. Luckily, it has never been fatal.
While civilians and pundits can debate the decision to go to war after the fact, soldiers on the ground do not have the luxury to revisit these decisions. As mentioned in The Charge of the Light Brigade, “Theirs not to reason why.”
The consequences of second-guessing can be fatal for a soldier, so how does one deal with it? While I do not know how the modern military addresses this, I got some insight into how samurai handled it from the movie Ghost Dog. Forest Whitaker’s eponymous character reads from Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai. The book is very clear on one point: uncertainty is bad.
How does one make decisions?
In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord Takanobu said: If discrimination is long, it will spoil. Lord Naoshige said: When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.
When your mind is going hither and thither, discrimination will never be brought to a conclusion. With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths.
How does one handle uncertainty?
When the time comes, there is no moment for reasoning. And if you have not done your inquiring beforehand, there is most often shame. Reading books and listening to people’s talk are for the purpose of prior resolution. Above all, the Way of the Samurai should be in being aware that you do not know what is going to happen next, and in querying every item day and night.
How does one handle different points of view?
It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. Therefore, it is inconsistent to hear something of the Way of Confucius or the Way of the Buddha, and say that this is the Way of the Samurai. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all Ways and be more and more in accord with his own.
What if all available options are undesirable?
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking.