Hidden Figures, Ancient Secrets


Know your enemy and know yourself, and one can go through one hundred battles without danger.”–Sun Tzu

My dear friend Victoria Whitlock, a project manager at a major technology firm with a Masters in Information Security and a third degree black belt in Judo, is my partner in creating what we’re currently calling THE ART OF SCIENCE: the application of ancient and martial wisdoms to women’s success in STEM fields.

Chief among the researches is one might guess, Sun Tzu’s THE ART OF WAR, arguably the most ancient and respected book of military discipline and business tactics.

All that is required is to see life through the metaphor of conflict, and all of its wisdom becomes available to the modern mind.   Heck, I’ve seen it applied to raising teenagers and cooking banquets.  Very flexible stuff.

As of about twenty years ago, Lifewriting is a dynamic sphere with  known X and Y axis (The Hero’s Journey, The Chakras) and an unknown Z axis.  I no longer try to “figure that out”. It will either pop into my mind one day, or it is supposed to remain a cipher. Or perhaps variable.

Variable allows me to ask “what happens if I make The Art of War the Z axis today, and replace it with some other ancient wisdom tomorrow.”   But…the HJ and the Chakras seem to remain constant, as the former  asks “what is the path of life?” and the latter says “what is the path of evolution within a human being?”

The Art of War, then, presents a way of winning when losing is not an option.

Let’s just take a look at an amazing and inspiring film about three women who succeeded in STEM despite both gender AND race: HIDDEN FIGURES.  (NOTE: like all films, HIDDEN FIGURES condenses history so that an infinitely complex situation [life] can be understood within the context of a two-hour film.  All of the events happened…but not always literally, with that timing, to those people, at that place.   I understand that it is necessary to create dramatic unity.  The larger lessons still hold.)


Engineer Mary Jackson started in an all-female, all black  “computer” pool, doing mathematical calculations.  She proved herself useful at practical applications (detecting a flaw in a heat shield) and leveraged this to gain entrance to a formerly segregated school, arguably a step toward general integration.

Now apply Sun Tzu’s words, and let’s see what we can yield:

Know your enemy and know yourself, and one can go through one hundred battles without danger.”–Sun Tzu

Jackson knew WHAT she wanted: to advance in her career, to get to “play with the cool stuff” as Vic says, and also to open the door to blacks and women to have these opportunities in the future.

She knew WHY she wanted it: for personal satisfaction/self expression.  For safety for her family (the jobs she aimed at had excellent pay). For advancement of “the Race”, which was a major emphasis for “the talented tenth” in the mid-20th Century. That was hammered into black people: the need to “uplift the race”.

To benefit her country: the space race was considered critical for national defense.

To benefit the human race: she saw space as the future of humanity.

That is one HELL of a list of motivations, don’t you think?

HOW to do it comes after the “what” and the “why”.   The specific tactics.  She had to

  1. Be ready with the skills to perform
  2. Position herself so that when the opportunity arose, she would be ready.
  3. Be impeccable in behavior, so as to give the “opponents” no room to cut her down for trivial reasons.
  4. Control her emotions. Keep her ego out of it.   This was not just a personal matter–it was about her family, her race, her country, the future of humanity.
  5. Be clear on her ultimate intentions: advancement.  Keeping your eyes on the ultimate goal makes the efforts and indignities along the way less onorous.

She KNEW she was smart enough, strong enough, and ready for the “battle.”   What WAS the “battle”?

To advance through the ranks to a position where she could use her intelligence and energy, get the rewards, play with “the cool stuff” and be of benefit to herself, her family, her race, her gender, her nation, the world.  The conflict would be with an entrenched cultural assumption of racial and gender inferiority.

Who was her opponent?  (“Know her enemy”).   One might think it was the white people  who were making decisions about her, “keeping her down.” That is possible, in which case she would have to either destroy, capture, convert or avoid them.

Another perspective would be that her “enemy” was the meme that said “women and black people cannot and should not engage in these activities” in which case her task was not to destroy people, or an institution, but the “enemy” of a false meme.

From THIS perspective, if science is a philosophy dedicated to asking “what is true?” then if she can replace a FALSE belief (“blacks and women cannot/should not”) with a TRUE belief (“blacks and women are just human beings, and as capable as anyone”) then she has actually been of positive use to the apparent opponents, who were never real enemies to begin with–they simply were asleep to truth, or operating off out-dated information.  Truth increases THEIR chance to survive, and in 99% of cases survival overrides all other values.  (Instances of life-risking heroism or destructive habit patterns can be discussed another time.)

In other words, she had a single thing to prove: that “blacks and women are just human beings and as capable as anyone.”   Every move she made, every step she took, every word she said, every frustration she bore could be considered aimed toward this single goal.  Why?  Because if she could achieve this she would avoid pain and gain pleasure, the point of all living things.

But how do you awaken those “sleeping” potential allies?  You identify the values conflict.   Theory:  illusion gives one set of rewards (social stability, personal ego, etc.) but truth must always give even greater benefits, or it is not truth.  In other words, she will destroy their illusions (causing pain) but ultimately give THEM greater avoidance of pain/gaining of pleasure as well.  You can appeal to almost ANYONE if you can convince them that your new path (tolerance and fair play) will give them greater joy and less pain than their old path.  This comes from “knowing yourself” and realizing that your motivations, followed deeply enough, are universal.

Conflicting goals of her “opponents”:

  1. To maintain social order.
  2. To win the space race

Both are considered survival drives.  But if one is based on a lie (“blacks and women are inferior”) then the short-term benefits are illusions, even if temporarily useful illusions.

But what if we add another theory: “Optimal usage of every human resource will be necessary to win the space race, which is necessary to survive.”

In this case, IF it is true, then it is more important to win the space race than to maintain a lie, even if that lie is comfortable.

If she could identify the deeper, more powerful motivation, and ally herself with that, then the shared overt “mission” (the space race) will override the covert and non-optimal “mission” (to maintain a racist/sexist social order) because it is more carefully aligned with survival needs, and therefor pleasure.

Remember what the Dalai Lama said: “the purpose of life is happiness.”  Show someone how helping YOU will make THEM happy, and you win.

The people “waking up” will feel discomfort as their beliefs are shattered.  That is the war: they will fight to remain asleep.   Mary Jackson therefore had to be willing to experience discomfort to achieve her goal.

Battling against human illusion is a mortal affair.   “People will love you if you can make them think they are waking up. But they will hate you if you actually awaken them.”

Prepare for battle.

She knew herself. She knew that her “opponent” was not people, but bad ideas that actually, ultimately, prevented those people from achieving maximum success.   The “battle” was going to war with the illusions.  Her weapons were emotional endurance, brilliance, wisdom, emotional control, and alliances with her friends, the other two amazing women of “Hidden Figures.”    Her ability to maintain a healthy home life (married with two children) and community service (she was a Girl Scout leader for thirty years) means she had the EMOTIONAL POWER (the “why”) and the clarity of purpose (the “what”) to endure the struggle with an unjust system…and change the world.

Know your enemy and know yourself, and one can go through one hundred battles without danger.”–Sun Tzu

How can we apply this to our own daily struggles?  What is the Five Step process?

  1. Love yourself. This gives you the courage to know yourself.
  2. Love another person. This is the foundation of EXTERNAL motivation as opposed to internal.
  3. Understand History without guilt, blame, or shame.  This allows us to understand both the “opponent’ and the “battle.”  Most racists or sexists are not evil–they are human beings doing the best they can with the resources they have.  YOUR BATTLE IS TO GIVE THEM NEW RESOURCES, SO THEY CAN SEE THEIR PREVIOUS BEHAVIORS ARE BAD FOR THEM.
  4. Support your tribe. Who is your “Tribe”?  For Mary, it was blacks, women, white allies, her nation, the human race. That is a HUGE tribe.  And it allowed her to isolate bigots too closed-minded to be flexible under any circumstances.  That percentage is, I suggest, actually rather small. FIGHT FOR YOUR TRIBE.  Pick the battles so important that the child voice, the “it’s not fair!” voice is drowned out by the “I MUST!” adult voice.  Life isn’t fair.   Get over it.   Fight as hard as you would for your own most beloved child, or your dreams will die.   Pick fights that are important enough for you to be willing to go all-out…or don’t fight at all.
  5. Win.   Commit to a goal that is to the benefit of ALL.  Note that her victory hurt no one, helped everyone. Truth and love are like that.

Know your enemy and know yourself, and one can go through one hundred battles without danger.”–Sun Tzu.  Hidden Figures, Ancient Secrets.

The truth has either been here all along, or it is nothing at all. There is no new truth.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s