The fish and the eel
There was once a man who wanted to transport the fish that he caught from the deep sea to shore to sell. Unfortunately, back in ancient China, boats were slow and their speed kind of relied on how fast he could row. By the time he got back to shore with his haul, the fish were barely alive. “My fish will never sell at a good price like this!” the man lamented, but what could he do?
The next day he continued to fish as normal, but when he got to shore, he noticed water splashing from one of his buckets. He walked over and pulled the fish from the bucket, which thrashed wildly trying to escape his grip. An eel had somehow managed to jump from its bucket into the fish’s bucket. And with the eel hot on its tail, the fish had to swim and swim.
The man had his eureka moment — the threat of danger and the fight for survival was what was needed to keep the fish alive! Circumstances that might seem unreasonable to people on the surface, can often hide deeper truths.
Thinking for ourselves
At the Battle of Jingxing (井陘之戰), the enemy laughed at HanXin (韩信) for placing his men between the enemy army and the Ye River (冶河). How can they retreat when we inevitably crush them? The enemy laughed.
But guess what? The threat of death allowed HanXin’s army to fight with the strength of 10x the men. The men didn’t fight for the emperor or for HanXin, they fought ferociously to stay alive, whereas the enemy army were overconfident with the numbers and their position.
Afterwards, HanXin explained that as he was commanding a ragtag army and that he was not a general of high renown, he had to resort to these drastic tactics to force everyone to fight.
SunTzu encourages us to think for ourselves and to apply our unique judgment. What other people see as harmful, may not be harmful to you.