“Action through Inaction” is, in its true form, waiting for the right moment to enact the course of action. This lesson, which can practically be applied to the life of any individual, is both resonant and comprehensible in the works Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu, whose notable works include The Art of War and the Tao De Ching. After a long comprehensive study of these given works, I have found that “action through inaction” can be made useful in a variety of human perplexities.
One human perplexity that often comes to mind is mortality. Human beings, aware of their own mortality unlike many other biological entities, have trouble accepting the inevitability of death. This fear of death is often referred to, in philosophy, as “death denial”. Let us examine some of the negative aspects of death denial portrayed in popular culture.
In the Star Wars films, Anakin Skywalker makes the unfortunate transformation from man to machine, in a venture for power. By achieving unbridled power, he believes he will overcome death and possess the ability save the people he loves from death too.
Anakin takes an active approach in avoiding death. Completely contradicting the way of the Tao, which states in Verse 50, “Every one of us is born. And every one dies. However, three of every ten seem to be born to live, three seem to be born to die, and three live life fully per their chosen lifestyles.” In my interpretation, the Tao, unlike Anakin, shows an acceptance of death’s certainty. More than that it reminds its readers that very few people, in this case 30%, are ever going to get what they want out of life.
Anakin’s dilemma with death denial shows a lack of adherence towards not only the Tao but the Jedi code as well. Which, in many respects, George Lucas based off the Tao De Ching and various other Asian cultural and philosophical practices. Jedi are taught to be the embodiment of Zen, clearing their minds with all that is anything. Replacing the something with nothing. And it is only through enveloping oneself into nothing, that one can achieve anything. For when one is completely disassociated and detached from the possessions of the material world and the people within that material world, becoming nonpartisan towards the inevitabilities of death, then they are truly free.
What can one do when their free? Free of fear and essentially free of barriers. You can ask your boss for a raise, and not be afraid to hear the words NO. You can ask out that pretty girl you’ve had a crush on since forever. You can finally publish your book, and not be afraid to hear criticism. And now that your no longer afraid of public speaking, you can finally try performing at a poetry open mic, or a comedy club or a music venue because you’re not be afraid of the fact that sometimes people aren’t going to like you.
If you are a free person and liberated, you can go skydiving. You can hike the Appalachian Mountains. You can even lose a hundred pounds! Because for once in your life, life doesn’t scare you. You can become a firefighter, a police officers or a soldier in the United States Military. And this lack of fear, of death, is exactly the kind of Taoist principle Sun Tzu instilled into his own armies during his lifetime.
Such sentiments are shared in The Art of War, which states in Verse 9, “When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle for food, and when the men do not hang their cooking-pots over the camp fires, showing that they will not return to their tents, you may know that they are determined to fight of the death.” Per my own interpretation, Sun Tzu sees a capable army as one that is accepting of the prospect of their deaths. This lack of fear, this detachment, and disassociation with one’s own self-preservation serves, in Sun Tzu’s eyes, as a form of liberation that turns frightened boys into instruments of war.
For Sun Tzu, soldiers who accept death become great warriors. For Jedi, those who accept death achieve nirvana. As Jedi relinquish their desires and their expectations of what the world owes them, their material bodies become nothing more than vessels. A vehicle to hold an eternal soul that will exist long after the passing of the body.
This is the ultimate irony of Anakin’s descent into evil. The fact that if he had stayed on the path of the Jedi, he would have achieved this nirvana and the immortality he wanted. Seeing as though he was already a Jedi, staying on this road would have been the path of passive inaction. Giving additional patience to the slow-moving pace of his Jedi training, he would have eventually gotten everything he wanted. If only he had waited.
If only you would stay on the road that you were going, giving additional patience to the slow-moving pace your endeavors, you would have eventually gotten everything you wanted. If only you had waited.
Many people who experience this in their daily lives refer to it as the self-fulfilling prophecy. Meaning that you try so desperately hard to make something happen that you end up sabotaging yourself. When in retrospect, if you had been a little bit less aggressive, you might have gotten what you wanted.
In one situation, you’ve misplaced your keys and the aggressive action is to start tearing apart your house to look for them. But if you had taken the approach of passive inaction and assessed the situation in a calm and patient manner then you would realize the keys were in your pocket the whole time. You could apply this to asking out a woman, and say that a subtle approach might come off as endearing whereas an aggressive approach may come off as threatening.
These analogies and the whole lesson of action through inaction are well summarized in the popular saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” It simple means, in terms of passivity v. indiscreet aggression, that the gentle approach may sometimes serve you better than hostile confrontation.