Be Your Own Manager

In a recent New Yorker Magazine piece on the changing mores of the Chinese worker in an ultra-competitive workplace, writer Leslie Chang defines what it is to be an American this way: the ability to be “pushy and friendly at the same time.” Perhaps. That we live in a competitive society is a fact beyond dispute. American culture values hard work, individual initiative, determination, and perseverance, among other things, all in the service of achieving goals that our fellow citizens seek as well. But when it comes to inculcating an attitude of mutual respect in the process, we get a little conflicted.

The problem is not that we as Americans do not value the character attribute of respect. We do. But when it comes to personal politics, we are sensitive to a fault lest any unreciprocated display of respect on our part be taken as a sign of weakness and capitulation.

Asian culture historically has taken the opposite approach. 5th-century B. C. Chinese philosopher Confucius counseled in his Analects not to waste energy responding to insults imagined or otherwise.

“What is the good of being ready with the tongue? They who encounter men with smartness of speech for the most part procure themselves hatred.” [(Lunyu 12.2, 6.30). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

It was to be taken as a sign of inner fortitude that you stick to your principles and refuse to be goaded.

”I should like not to boast of my excellence, nor to make a display of my meritorious deeds.” []

In other words, let your accomplishments speak for themselves. The proper strategy is to cultivate an aspect of strength in humility when confronted by the weak arrogance of others.

In a society that promotes personal salesmanship as the road to success, this is easier said than done.

Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon the taekwondo-ist to adopt exactly this attitude. The skills are potentially too destructive not to maintain an exemplary level of self-control in the face of irrational behavior. I explain it to my students—especially the young ones—this way: Professional fighters hire managers who arrange their fights for them. When another person tries to anger you to the point of fighting, that person has just hired himself as your manager. Don’t let them do it.

Be your own manager.

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