Know Your Enemy

The best offense is a good defense. The world is full of people, all filled with desires, dreams, wants, needs, jealousy and a sometimes uncontrollable drive to secure, for ourselves, all that we deem necessary to feel safe and in control. Everyone wants to win, attain that house on the hill, have enough of everything they need and even more of what they want. Most of us begin with the best of intentions, some get lost along the way. Deceit, treachery and ruthlessness emerge as the competition heats up. All bets are off, morality becomes optional and the ends justify the means.

The 48 Laws of PowerThe 48 Laws of Power is what you get if The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout were merged into one. It is the other team’s playbook – the schemes, the thoughts, the reasoning, the strategy and, most importantly, the mindset of those who strive to get ahead by stepping on you and me.

In football, teams spend countless hours studying their opponent, understanding what they do in various situations, their tendencies, weaknesses, strengths and character. The more they know about them the better they are able to prepare. It enables them to create game plans, plays, and personnel changes targeted at the other team’s weaknesses. They build an offense that is fully prepared to counter everything the other team might present. If the other teams plays dirty, is overly aggressive, has a particular strength that seems unbeatable, a good game plan can provide the slightest of edges that can end in victory.

This is also true in life and in work. Especially work. It is in business that we all start at the bottom and stare up the funnel – the positions are fewer as we rise, while the benefits, salary and prestige increase – and we feel pitted against our peers in gaining a coveted position at the next level.

Some of us can take this competition in stride. We believe that doing our best will merit promotion. That our talent alone should speak for or worthiness of advancement. Honest competition, you against me, and let the best win.

Others believe in adding an additional element to the mix. They believe that talent will get you only so far. They wonder if their best is not good enough. Believe they must prevent you from doing your best in order to win the day. They want to crush the “enemy” and secure what is “theirs.”

We have all known these people. They often live among us, invisible to the naked eye, revealed only when the battle is on, when they turn their backs or leave us out in the cold when we need them most.

I learned about these people in college in a Political Science Seminar populated by some very ambitious Pre-Law students and assorted other scoundrels. This was a great class, with a great teacher, great discussions and a wonderful rapport among the students. My eyes were opened near the end of the semester. This particular teacher had a rule of only giving out a set number of A’s and B’s, the rest of the class would receive C’s or lower. He pitted us against each other. He would rank our papers and distribute grades accordingly. For a group of kids looking to get into law school the possibility of getting a C was unbearable. Then the fit hit the shan!

We were to write an extensive research paper using original source documents and primary resources. The limited number of materials available in our library suddenly began to “disappear.” Promised rides to other libraries vanished. It was a feeding frenzy, every one worked alone, kept to themselves, trusted no one and looked over their shoulder at all times. It was ugly!

As a simple kid from a small town, I was heartbroken. I had never witnessed that level of mean, self-serving behavior before. I reacted with hurt, anger, disillusionment and animosity toward the teacher and my peers.

While I still don’t like the method, reading The 48 Laws of Power has helped me understand what was going on and why. People are complicated. When we get pushed against the wall, when we feel that our ability to thrive is being threatened or see our desires within our reach, we sometimes resort to behaviors we would never consider at any other time. We do things that we look back on with tremendous remorse, regret and confusion. “How could I have done that?”

But we cannot control what others will or won’t do. What get us in trouble, turns us into victims, is when we assume others are using the same playbook we are. In thinking they share our values, ethics, morality and sense of obligation to be a good person. When we do this we become somebody’s prey. We need a good defense. We need to understand that there are people out there waiting to prey upon our trust and vulnerability.

There are also those with weak character who will fail us when we need them most. It is not their intention, they are simply unclear on their values and make decision out of fear.

So, I recommend reading The 48 Laws of Power. I do not suggest that it be used as a guide for conducting your business or relationships. The historical events and persons described in the book are some of the most shameless and heartless people to have ever lived. These are the bad people. This book teaches you how they think, how low they will go (lower than you can conceive) and helps you be aware of the evil that lurks in the hearts of us all. Like the football team it helps us create a game plan for our lives that is driven by our values, seeks the best in people, but is also vigilant in defending against the worst.

Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.