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Burn the bridge?

中国日报网 2013-01-25 10:58

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Reader question:

“To go all the way, you need to burn the bridges behind you.” What does “burn the bridges” mean?

My comments:

This sounds like someone advising people, as they are about to embark on some new endeavor or other, to go all out and not worry too much about the past or about consequences.

Or they’re advising you not to be half-hearted. Perhaps this is a better explanation. To “burn the bridges behind you”, you see, is an idiom inspired by some ancient military tactic of burning the bridge after the soldiers have crossed the river. This risky tactic is used as an extra motivation to spur on the soldiers, telling them now that the bridge is burned, there is no turning back. There’s nowhere to go but forward. And so let’s go all out and win the battle once and for all.

In Chinese, we have a similar idiom of military origin in Mie Ci Zhao Shi(灭此朝食), or in plain language, let’s skip breakfast. If we go on attack this morning with an empty stomach, as goes the logic, we may be better motivated in battle this time. And so let’s win the battle now and have a big lunch afterwards.

Extreme tactics, assuredly. Perhaps soldiers can all make do going to battle on an empty stomach for one day, but certainly not everyday! Hence, you better save such tactics as “skipping breakfast, burning the bridge, or burning the boat (same as burning the bridge)” for extreme circumstances.

Anyways, if someone tells you to burn the bridge or bridges (often plural, indicating there’re, indeed, more than one bridge to burn), they mean to tell you to sever connections from the past and look ahead.

It is a good advice, I think, but only to a point. True, if we want to try something new, we cannot always look back, worrying about traditions and how things were done before. That way, we’ll never make progress. Political reform, for instance, is something that’s not easy of accomplishment in this country or anywhere – precisely because the bridges to the past are too numerous and all un-burned.

But, on the other hand, perhaps it’s not a good idea to always burn one’s bridges. After all, burning the bridge is inherently risky. The army for instance may have burned the bridge today but next day want to use the bridge again and find it no longer there. In warfare, you never want to be put in a position where there is no retreat. Or in business, no back up plan.

Therefore, do not always burn your bridges lest you regret it. If you leave your company, for instance, do not always burn your bridge behind you by badmouthing your employer. One day, you may need him to put in a good word for you when you look for another job in the same industry. Your former and employer to-be may know each other.

Just saying. I don’t know exactly what your situation is. I just want to make sure you know what you’re doing when you choose to burn, or not burn, your bridges.

And you can start, of course, by learning exactly where the appropriate situations are to put this particular phrase into use.

Here are just a few recent media examples:

1. Ever since Valerie Jarrett came to Washington four years ago her power in the Obama White House has sparked envy, anger and even charges that in the 21 years she has known the president she has become his “mother.”

“I’m not that old,” Jarrett said to me recently in an interview at the Democrat’s convention in Charlotte.

But in her time in the Obama White House Jarrett has become a Washington legend for being as fiercely protective of the president as a mother is of her son. As one senior White House official recently told the New York Times, on the condition of anonymity that she out-ranks the chief of staff, cabinet officers and generals: “She is the single most influential person in the Obama White House.”

And she also has a staff of more than three dozen, according to the Times, to make her power felt in every corner of official Washington.

I personally know that influence and sharp-edged loyalty also extends to the First Lady, Michelle Obama.

When the President first took office, I told Bill O’Reilly that Mrs. Obama would hurt her husband if she became “Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress.” Instead, I explained, she planned to defeat caricatures of her as an angry black woman by working on politically and racially safe issues like childhood obesity and support for military families.

Her aides told me Jarrett did not like that “Stokely Carmichael” remark. My requests to talk with Jarrett went nowhere.

I am not alone. Administration officials, political players, and donors have found her to be a bare-knuckle political brawler and someone whom you cross at your own peril. She has clashed with the big boys in the Chicago worlds of politics, government and business and prevailed nearly every time. She was the Deputy Chief of Staff to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and even chaired the Chicago Stock Exchange before joining Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

In Bob Woodward’s new book on the Obama White House, “The Price of Politics,” he tells the story of how Peter Orzag, Obama’s first budget director, was scolded by Jarrett. He had written a newspaper column critical of the president’s healthcare plan for not including reform of medical malpractice lawsuits. Jarrett’s answer was that Orzag was “disloyal,” to the President and a warning to him that he had “burned your bridges.”

- Valerie Jarrett - the ‘tough guy’ adviser in the Obama White House is a woman, FoxNews.com, September 13, 2012.

2. The followers of a meditation practice that has roots in ancient India say it's simple: Close your eyes, silently repeat a mantra and relax. But a dispute among rivals for control over its teaching is anything but peaceful, featuring personal attacks, aggressive lawyering and accusations of improper business practices.

The feud pits the Iowa nonprofit that has taught transcendental meditation for decades against Thom Knoles, a former associate who left and built his own group of followers. The outcome could decide whether the Fairfield, Iowa-based Maharishi Foundation will continue to control the teaching of U.S. transcendental meditation – or whether rivals can market similar services and its benefits without obtaining a license from the group.

The sides are fighting for customers and to protect their own reputations in a federal court case over whether the foundation can enforce its trademark rights and claims of false advertising against Knoles and other teachers of his rival Vedic Meditation. With high stakes, the litigation over a technique that supporters say can reduce stress and blood pressure is getting tense.

To the foundation, Knoles and his followers are using the credibility and positive image associated with its technique to promote themselves and mislead customers. To Knoles’ backers, the foundation is unfairly seeking a monopoly on a technique that’s existed thousands of years.

Supporters of transcendental meditation – which involves closing one’s eyes twice daily for 20 minutes while silently thinking to reduce stress and promote health – are being warned to choose sides carefully.

Once you’ve formally burned your bridges, however, I’m afraid there’ll be nothing more I or anyone can do to help you,” a foundation supporter wrote in 2011, advising a businessman to reconsider his commitment to Knoles, in an email included in court records.

- Legal Fight Over Calming Technique Lacks Harmony, Associated Press, January 20, 2012.

3. Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register did an outstanding profile of the man that many around Los Angeles have come to despise for running their beloved franchise into the ground. In it, he explains that Buss is not like his father, but his own person with a unique set of principles and philosophies on management.

He also has autonomy, or something very close to it as his father ages and deals with growing health concerns.

Jim’s finest hour came in playing a major role in drafting 17-year-old Andrew Bynum, who became an All-Star in Los Angeles and won two titles with L.A. in 2009 and 2010. If that sounds uninspiring in its own regard, wait until the exploration of the negatives.

That begins with the fallout of the beloved Phil Jackson, who is not only a legend around Hollywood, but in NBA circles everywhere. That’s because the Zen Master was instrumental in orchestrating 11 championship runs, five of which came in Los Angeles.

After Jackson’s departure following a second stint as the Lakers' coach in 2010-11, he had this to say:

“I haven’t spoken to Jimmy Buss this year,” Jackson said in his final session with reporters that season. “As far as management, if you want to call it that, there’s really not a relationship with that aspect of it. So when I leave here, I don’t anticipate they’ll call me up and ask my advice.”

That was the beginning of Buss’ reign as the final decision-maker in L.A. The Jackson debacle resulted in a bridge burned with a coaching legend and no vote of confidence or blessing from him, either. In fact, he all but said a sarcastic “good luck” as a parting shot.

To be fair, Jackson can’t be absolved of everything, especially having an ego of his own. When it comes down to it, though, he has more basketball credibility. That’s what matters most to folks on the outside.

- Jim Buss is Ruining the Lakers: Examining the Slow, Painful Path to Tyranny, Yahoo.com, January 22, 2013.

本文仅代表作者本人观点,与本网立场无关。欢迎大家讨论学术问题,尊重他人,禁止人身攻击和发布一切违反国家现行法律法规的内容。

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About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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