49 B.C. – Roman Province of Gaul
Gaius Julias Caesar, the military governor of Gaul (an area covering most of modern day France) is encamped with his massive 13th Legion on the southern border of Gaul which touches northern Italy. The physical border is known as the river Rubicon. The “river” is just a small stream. But, its historical importance will make it legendary.
Around the same time in history, a brilliant Chinese general in the Far East is writing a book that will change military, business, legal, and other adversarial tactics around the world.
While Caesar knows nothing of this book or its author. He will soon experience victory that comes with adhering to the lessons in Art of War.
Today, he receives a message from the governing body of the Roman Empire; the Imperial Senate in Rome. The message is clear. Gaius Julius Caesar is to immediately disband his army, return to Rome, or be deemed an enemy of the state.
Caesar knows that the Roman Senate is comprised of weak, arrogant, and fearful men. He also knows that the garrison in Rome is not loyal to their government.
In contrast, the 13th Legion is battle hardened, well equipped, and fiercely loyal to their leader.
Caesar is a natural leader who has never been keen on taking orders from politicians or bureaucrats.
He analyzes the military and political situation. Engaging the enemy has little risk and much to gain.
He and his army cross the Rubicon and march toward Rome.
The battle between the 13th and the Roman garrison was decided weeks before the first drop of blood is shed. The victory was secure when the first legionnaire stepped into the river.
After an overwhelming victory, Caesar declares himself Emperor, becomes an effective political leader, and changes the course of western civilization.
His murder on March 14, 44 B.C. (known by the Roman calendar as the “Ides of March”) by treacherous senators, lead by Marcus Junius Brutus, would end his story much too early.
Throughout our lives, we pause at rivers or other barriers when we are presented with challenges or opposition. A father warns a son not to pursue a career because he does not approve. A boss tells a talented employee not to “outshine” him in the workplace. A lawyer warns opposing counsel not to pursue a strategic position. An organization demands that you change your political beliefs or your career will suffer. A congressman is warned by his majority leader to “get on board” with legislation “or else.” An advisor warns that you must not speak of your religious beliefs and heritage or you will lose business. A customer, client, or patron demands that an unethical or unwise direction be taken or “you will be fired.”
Sometimes, it is wise to stand back and fight another day. But, most of the time, the person dictating the ultimatum does not have anyone’s best interest in mind except his or her own.
What do you do when faced with an ultimatum by an adversary or a person who seeks to force your hand? Stay in Gaul? March on Rome?
While not always successful, I seek to accomplish three things before making that decision:
1. Pray for God’s direction;
2. Assess the situation in a military context.
3. Decide what is “the right thing to do.”
Using this analysis, the clear majority of my rivers should have been crossed. Many were. Some were not. But, learning from good and regrettable decisions is part of life’s journey.
Caesar set the historical example of when to defy an opposing person, force, or challenge.
When the time comes, don’t be afraid to cross the river Rubicon.