Wednesday, December 18, 2013


More than ten years ago I sat on a civil jury hearing a slip and fall case involving a little girl who was injured at a grocery store. The details of the case were in dispute, but everyone agreed that there was a broken baby food jar in the aisle, that the child asked her parents to go to the end of the aisle and look at something. She slipped and fell cutting herself in three places on her leg. The question was: who was responsible for her injuries and how can she be restored?

More recently, I witnessed another fall at a health club. A man spent way too much time in the sauna, over heated, passed out and hit his head on the concrete floor, chipping a tooth and getting a bloody mouth. Is he responsible for his misadventure?

In each case we can look at a situation where, for whatever reason, somebody decided not to exercise their responsibility for the safety of themselves or others, and the consequences involved blood. But what as warriors can we learn about the need for responsibility, and to whom are we responsible and to what degree?

To the general population, the term responsibility is often confabulated with punishment – the President vows to find the “responsible terrorists”, the police to find the “criminals responsible”, your teachers figuring out who is responsible for throwing a pencil in class, or parents assigning areas of responsibility for chores. These become buzz words for punishment or pain.

There are other kinds of responsibilities – ones that come with pride. Being responsible for the development of a child into a mature civil human being. For the success of a project. For the flawless performance of skill or talent. But these don't get the press that the negative associations do.

To non-warriors, pain is to be avoided, and that informs the choice of how to behave “responsibly”. I might get caught, sentenced and go to jail for taking money that's not mine. Since this involves pain, physical or psychological, I shall not do it. Likewise pleasure or praise is to be sought as a source of positive responsibility – I shall complete my assignments on time and on budget, and receive praise, possible rewards and advancements.

Nowhere in this logic does the necessity of principle come in, or values or any real higher reasoning or abstraction beyond that needed to imagine the direct consequences of the action. In fact, one needn't be a warrior to appreciate this system is morally empty. No better than B.F. Skinner's Operant Conditioning at work. Pull the lever, get the food. Pull the other lever to avoid the shock.

So the development of warriors requires something more deep and conscious than simply pain/pleasure paradigms. The reason is that warriors seek to serve things greater than simply themselves. Granted, they serve themselves too, but not at the expense of the greater service. It is more fulfilling to them to serve the larger ideal: Nation, God(s), Humanity, Posterity, Liberty, etc. than to merely avoid getting hurt. Their orientation, if you will, is to focus on the larger perspective. I will call this view Strategic.

Secondly, while they may have lofty motivations, their methodologies for getting those goals accomplished have to take into account the actual conditions of the space they find themselves in: thier own bodies, knowledge and will, the environment, their resources, the condition of allies and enemies, etc. This takes a no-nonsense appraisal, since lives can be lost on a bad appraisal. I will call this view Tactical.

The end is that a warrior has to hold both views to decide where he is responsible and where he isn't. He has to have a vision of the greater loyalty, and at the same time be ruthlessly evaluating the capabilities of those to which he is loyal, or the propriety of the loyalties he has sworn.

Unquestioning loyalty gets one unquestioningly dead.

So the warrior has more abstract responsibilities, which drive him to a more concrete analysis than non-warriors. That analysis is the most uncompromising part of warriorhood, and is honed and refined. I would submit that this is truly the ultimate weapon – the strategic/analytic mindset. It drives decisions that win conflicts, and ultimately power.

Pain becomes something that can be endured temporarily as a means to achieving a Tactical or Strategic goal. Pleasure is something that can be refused or delayed if it interferes with a Tactical or Strategic goal. It no longer forms the basis of decision making for a warrior,but becomes ancillary to it.

The second consequence of this mindset is how the warrior handles power as compared to non-warriors. Power is a lot like winning a lottery payout – is reveals character. To a person who has played the pain/pleasure game, it takes a lot of the responsibilities off his shoulders. Usually this person becomes what we would call irresponsible – inconsiderate of the consequences of his actions, to the point of harming his future. The basis of responsibility, the pain/pleasure matrix, is now wiped out, because he can pay to avoid pain and enhance pleasure. Power skews the pain/pleasure matrix too, making others responsible for intercepting pain on your behalf, and clearing the way for, or providing pleasure.

Contrast this with a warrior ethic that allows one to accept reasonable pain towards a goal, and delay pleasure to that goal as well. The decision matrix is still intact, even if power or money are present, since they depend on things more lasting and eternal than pain/pleasure. Corruption becomes less a problem for them, since transient wealth and power are used primarily towards their Strategic goals, not for temporary pain/pleasure mitigation.

And this is the foundation for what we call character and discipline. To be covered under a different blog entry.

So back to the original question: how does our ethos about Strategic and Tactical thinking inform the placing of responsibility in the court case I opened with? It should be no surprise Mom and Dad were suing the grocery store for having an unsafe environment. And there were falsified documents on the part of the store manager to indicate he was “pencil whipping” his forms and not actually doing safety checks as he claimed.

But in closing arguments, the defense attorney asked a simple question: What is your responsibility as a parent? Do you send your kid out as a scout, to see if the way is clear, or do you do what is inconvenient because parenting requires it?

And at the end, that's what I voted for in that jury room. The higher value was raising a child to be a good grown up, and protecting her until she could make those choices. The higher value was setting the responsibilities with the parents because the world could not be made safe for them by other people, even after the fact. They had failed at doing their job, which was to be warriors at heart in protecting their child, and gave in to the demands of a child and avoided the irritation of having to say no.

They then tried to shift that responsibility on to another party, and to a small degree the store was negligent, but the lion's share rested with the parents. We each have spheres of responsibility, and sometimes they overlap. Protecting your own child is not something you get to pawn off onto someone else.

It falls to each to decide what is a guiding set of values, and use that to define our success, failures and responsibilities. Rise above pain/pleasure, into the world of mature decision making.

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