A Chinese Idiom

My writing has been a bit dull lately, and so none of it has made it up just yet. As an interlude, I thought this Chinese idiom might be interesting. In Chinese there are several of these, usually four syllable, idioms. They are called 成语 chengyu, which means “(something which has) become (common) language” – hinting that these idioms usually come from lines of stories or poems, sometimes directly, and sometimes condensed.

This particular idiom describes a method I use in my security work.

先礼后兵 xian li hou bing

Literally, it says, “first politeness, after soldier.” The idea is that, in approaching conflict you begin politely and courteously, but are always prepared to shift roles on a moments notice to being mean, stern, frightening, commanding, and potentially violent. For most people, this is very difficult to do. In fact, a lot of criminals are very good at warming up to people, because it makes it difficult for those people to be mean later. They befriend you, then ask you for, or take your money, for example. Many security guards, in my experience, are not too good at this, which means they have to start out as the “soldier,” mean and rough. This is safer, however, then starting nice, and not being able to change.

If you can make the change though, it is very rewarding, because you can then do what the criminals do, build rapport. And, most folks know when they’ve crossed the line, so when you do turn mean, they often get it, and back off quick. They test you, but they don’t really want a conflict.

The idiom apparently came from an older era (I forget when), and was used to refer to actual battles, where the commanders would try to talk it out first, and resort to fighting only if the negotiations failed.

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