What code do you live by?
When I ask that, you may think that you don’t have a code that guides how you show up each day. I would argue that you probably do have a code that guides your life, but you’ve probably never slowed down long enough to think about it. Like breathing, there are certain virtues that you hold close and ways you behave that are hardwired into your life. They’re just things you do.
That’s how I lived for a long time, coasting through life. But, then, I got more serious about understanding who I am, what I stand for, and how I want to live.
We unpacked this on a recent episode of the Grit Meets Growth podcast. Specifically, we explored the Bushido Code, the eight principles that served as a guide for elite Samurai warriors in Japan, known as the Way of the Warrior. Interestingly enough, the eight virtues of the Bushido Code are all focused on how one thinks, not physical strength. This Samurai code doesn’t focus on aggression. Instead, it concentrates on the mind. That’s where our daily battles are fought.
The Bushido challenges us to live with…
What is fair? What is righteous? What is equitable? The Samurai lived and waged war with a moral compass that would guide every decision and action in their lives. A well-known Samurai defined it like this. “To die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.” In other words, there is a time for both. Reflecting on what is fair and just will help you understand which is appropriate. Power is to be exercised with discretion.
Interestingly, the Bushido Code does not say that the Samurai is fearless. Instead, it calls the warrior to be courageous. There is a distinct difference between being fearless and courageous. Living a fearless life is not realistic. Living a courageous life, where we experience fear and walk toward what scares us without flinching, is living out Bushido. Samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo put it this way in the 17th century. “When meeting difficult situations, one should dash forward bravely and with joy.”
Compassion has quickly become a lost art in today’s world, where division and friction are the norms. Including compassion in the Bushido Code calls warriors to practice patience, love, and empathy – not things we would normally associate with the aggressive nature of the Samurai. This reminds us of the ability for compassion and aggression to balance each other in our lives.
Another lost art in today’s world, politeness and respect can seem old-fashioned. At the same time, what we respect in others can also be tainted. We meet someone who is naturally compassionate, and we consider them to be soft. We treat empathy as something we can lord over those who are weaker. Including respect in the Bushido Code reminds us to acknowledge the feelings, rights, and traditions of those who may be different than we are or “lower” than we are by the world’s standards.
Lying, cheating, stealing… The Bushido Code called the Samurai to resist these temptations to bend. Living with honesty and sincerity was expected, in big things and little things, in a brightly lit crowd, and alone in the dark. Tied closely to justice and fear, doing the right thing is the right thing, and compromising is inauthentic. Truth, in word and deed, and keeping one’s promises is integrity in action. Curious if you have integrity? Ask yourself this. Do I follow through on my commitments and do what I say, even when no one is watching?
Alongside integrity lives honor. Honor involves holding oneself to a high standard of personal and professional conduct. It’s about having a strong sense of moral character and being respected by others because of it. A person with honor is trustworthy, responsible, and lives according to a code. They take 100% responsibility for their actions and resist making excuses for failures in their lives.
Loyalty is all about allegiance and having a devoted attachment to something or someone. This might be a devotion to an idea, one’s country, or family and friends. To be loyal, one must first stay true to themself. Then, they can be loyal to people and things outside of themselves. Loyalty is easy to claim in life, but we often find out how loyal we are to the people and ideas in our lives when things get tested. When challenges and trials come, loyalty is confirmed or denied in our lives.
In the Bushido Code , the concept of self-control means adhering to the Warrior Code at all times. Some versions of the Bushido code do not include self-control, but Inazo Nitobe’s book Bushido: The Soul of Japan emphasizes the need for discipline in our lives. Being able to control our emotions and actions is an essential characteristic of all warriors. This is especially important during the battles life brings us. Our ability to make decisions, avoid actions we will regret, and control our impulses is what separates us as humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.
If you’ve read through this list and see the value in living out the Bushido Code, then the next thing to do is take inventory. At the end of each day, ask yourself:
- Was I just and fair today, exercising my power with discretion?
- Was I courageous today, stepping boldly toward my fears?
- Was I compassionate today, approaching others with empathy?
- Was I respectful today, even of those who could offer me nothing?
- Did I live with integrity today, maintaining honesty when I was tempted to bend?
- Did I live with honor today, protecting the things I stand for?
- Was I loyal today, standing by those in my close circle?
- Did I practice self-control today, not giving in to my carnal nature?
Whether you’ve spent time thinking about it or developing it, you have a code you live by. With that in mind, ask yourself, “What is my code?” When I discovered the Bushido Code, it lined up well with the values of my faith, and I began weaving it into my daily life. That’s the challenge for all of us. Define your code, weave it into your life, and then live it out every day to the best of your ability. When you fall, get back up. When you miss the mark, go back to your code tomorrow.
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