Break Down In Order to Build Back Up

Andy, a long-time reader, writes in with a question:

I would like to see if you can write something about why you’re so fond of “kick-ass”.  In other words, would you present your rational to readers why kicking ass is such a big deal.  I have been often told that that kicking ass needs courage and skills, but “fixing ass”, if I may say, needs more skills and courage.  Or can we say, construction is more difficult and productive than destruction.

I love that concept – “fixing-ass”. Andy brings up a good point. Why am I so obsessed with “kicking ass”? And is that necessarily tied to a love of destruction. One of the most universally negative actions is terrorism – wanton destruction/violence and the fear associated with it.

So here’s the short answer:

Creation and destruction are two sides of the same coin.

Think about building a building. To build a building you have to cut down trees to make 2 x 4’s and smelte ore to make pipes and grind up limestone to make cement. In order to create, we must destroy.

On the flip side, when you erase a whiteboard, thus destroying whatever’s on it, you pave the way for new markings to be made. When you destroy (aka disprove) a scientific theory with conclusive evidence to the contrary, you open up opportunities for newer and better theories to emerge [1].

The Art of Ass-Kicking is about transforming yourself so that you can achieve more in your career, your business, your sport, and your social life. But we all have bad habits and limiting attitudes that hold us back. In order to make the break through, you have you eliminate the junk that oppresses us.

As the koan of the Zen Master and the scholar goes – “before we can truly understand, we must empty the cup“. [2]

It takes skill and courage to destroy, even if it’s toward a greater good. And after we make the difficult decision to destroy, we must then begin again the process of creating. Of building and fixing.

So go forth and kick some ass today. But if you break anything, remember that it’s your job to help build it back up better than it was before.


[1] A more straightforward reason for destruction in the scientific community might just be that old scientists need to die for new theories to emerge. As Max Planck, Noble Prize winner and creator of quantum theory once said:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grow up that is familiar with it.

[2] The full story varies depending on where you source it. Here’s one variant from the Nebraska Zen Center:

One of my favorite stories concerns a Buddhist scholar and a Zen Master. The scholar had an extensive background in Buddhist Studies and was an expert on the Nirvana Sutra. He came to study with the master and after making the customary bows, asked her to teach him Zen. Then, he began to talk about his extensive doctrinal background and rambled on and on about the many sutras he had studied.

The master listened patiently and then began to make tea. When it was ready, she poured the tea into the scholar’s cup until it began to overflow and run all over the floor. The scholar saw what was happening and shouted, “Stop, stop! The cup is full; you can’t get anymore in.”

The master stopped pouring and said: “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas about Buddha’s Way. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.”

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