bīng qiáng zé miè 兵强则灭
Relying on Force and Flaunting One’s Superiority Leads to Destruction.
Relying on force and flaunting one’s superiority leads to destruction. This is a concrete embodiment of ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi’s concept of shou rou (守 maintain; 柔 tenderness, gentleness). Laozi believed that every object has two sides, firmness as well as tenderness, strength as well as weakness. These two sides are not absolute, but under certain conditions, they can transform into the other. However, in the long run, things that appear to be firm and strong have in actuality reached its optimum, whereas things that are seemingly tender and weak are still full of vitality and vigor, and can escalate even further, just as those states which rely on force and flaunt their superiority everywhere will ultimately move towards their own destruction. This tells us that, in governing a state, or in managing interpersonal relations, one should never be overly staunch, and should not bully the weak. Instead, one should conquer the unyielding with gentleness, be firm but gentle, and tamper force with mercy, and only then can stability and harmony be achieved.
When a man is alive, his body is soft and weak. Upon his death, it becomes hard and stiff. When grass and trees live, they are soft and fragile. Upon their death, they turn withered and dry. Therefore, the hard and stiff are followers of death; the soft and weak are followers of life. That is why when an army flaunts its strength, it will soon perish, while when a tree becomes strong it snaps. (Laozi)