It is so easy to say: "pick your battles." But, what exactly does that mean? I know the obvious answer to that question. But there must be a non-obvious answer too. Why else would so many of us waste so much time battling things that, later, seem so ridiculous.
Well, for one, we rarely, if ever, see the thing we fight for as a
waste of time. We live in narrow strips of time, and in that time all of our battles are of paramount importance. We spend little time on strategic planning, and most of it in the fog of war.
We often fight to force our views on others, whether they are
inclined to accept our views or not. Religions like to do this, but so
do many well-meaning people. Well-meaning people have fought all kinds
of senseless battles over the years. Just in the past century
well-meaning people tried to keep women from voting, and blacks from
having equal rights in society.
Oh sure, it’s now obvious to most people (although there are still
some holdouts) that women should be allowed to vote and blacks should
be allowed to have social dignity on an equal footing with whites. We
have all kinds of parades to commemorate the just battle of the
righteous for those struggles. We forget about the ill-conceived
battles of the ‘non-righteous.’ We completely forget that well-meaning
people fight ridiculous battles all the time. And who are we? Why
well-meaning people, of course.
And what about the non-epic battles? The ones that, if won, will
never be commemorated with a parade or a holiday? What about those
every day little struggles that we all engage in constantly? What does
it mean to ‘pick your battles’ there? Who will teach us to identify
the sensless battles in our everyday life? In this case there is an
obvious answer. But, unfortunately, it’s not one we like to think
about. Here’s a question to help move things along.
What if you knew that you only had 10 minutes to live? Someone has
implanted a thing in your brain and you are doomed to die no matter
what you do. So, in that context, would it be easier for you to figure
out which battles to fight? I think a lot of things would come into
sharp relief rather quickly.
Of course, you aren’t likely to die in 10 minutes. But you could, right?
It’s funny. We all know we’re going to die, and yet when our death
approaches it always comes as a major shock to us. Some people get
snagged by death without ever knowing it arrived. But most of us have
time to experience some shock. What is contained in that moment of
shock? Is there some important realization in that initial moment of
I have no idea. But here’s what I’m thinking. Even without knowing exactly
when my death will arrive, if I paid more attention the fact that I
will not live forever, then I’ll bet that a lot of the battles would be
easier to pick.