Men rise from one ambition to another: first, they seek to secure themselves against attack, and then they attack others. – Niccolò Machiavelli
What does that mean?
This quote a condensed version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, tailored to match the ruthlessness of the times Machiavelli lived in, and the audience he was addressing. Once a Prince is secure in their station, the next logical thing to do is to clear the field of anyone who is, or could possibly become, a threat.
This is still going on in the modern world, although usually not in terms of physical violence (certain rulers of third world countries excepted). For most of us, we only perceive threats to what we are used to, not necessarily to our existence.
For most of us (as an example), losing a job is painful, and can hurt our self-esteem (and our cash flow). However, with perseverance, we can usually bounce back. It usually isn’t a survival issue. Even if it completely wipes you out, there are places and people to turn to in your hour of need. There is always hope.
Why is avoiding the trap of win-lose existence important?
This quote, at it’s core, is about win-lose relationships. As soon as one has satisfied their safety and security, one is expected (per the quote) to defeat anyone else, especially those who might in the future be a threat to you. That’s win-lose. You win, they lose.
Humanity has spent much of it’s time in these win-lose battles. All the way back to the first humans, win-lose was the order of the day. For my tribe to win, we have to eliminate or displace the neighboring tribe. During the Hunter-Gatherer phase, that might have made sense, at least during the lean times.
However, since the dawn of agriculture, trade has been the far more efficient use of manpower. However, there are always going to be people who would rather take from others than to create things themselves. That’s where we need to follow the first portion of the quote and secure ourselves against attack. However, when we attack others, we must be very careful that the end-game is win-win.
World War One is a classic example of Win-Lose warfare. And it lead us directly into World War Two. However, some people in positions of power managed to learn a lesson, and in rebuilding the Axis powers, helped the war end in something closer to a Win-Win situation.
Where can I apply this in my life?
While our times may seem tough, they aren’t as bloodthirsty and raw as they were back then. These days, most of us are a little above the basic safety level in life. However, scratch below the surface, and you may find your inner Prince. How many have wanted to somehow get rid of a romantic rival, and have someone all to yourself?
Or perhaps you’ve seen it at work at work. Have you ever seen someone, once they have become relatively secure in their position, then start working on undermining the others? In this manner, they hope to make themselves the obvious pick for the next promotion. They win, everyone else (including the company they work for) lose.
It might not always be easy to see where lies the path to the best possible win-win scenario, but it is a worthy thing to seek. I start by assuming the others in the situation are in the win-lose mentality. I try to find out what it would take for them to consider the situation a win. Then I try to find a way for everyone to get something out of the deal, even if it’s a small victory.
In this manner, I try to get a bunch of small victories for everyone, with no one losing anything that is important to them. It’s kind of like the old swap meet gag in the cartoons. The thing the character wants isn’t for sale, but the owner would trade for something else. Then you find that item, but that person wants something else.
By keeping things friendly, and emphasizing being reasonable, you can often find ways to break out of the win-lose pattern. However, you may have noted that I didn’t say it would work all the time. Nothing is ever fool-proof, and we are rarely dealing with fools anyways.
There are still people with the win-lose mentality, who will see your attempts at diplomacy as weakness. They will try to take advantage of the situation. Sometimes you’ll be able to push back, other times, you’ll just have to make a mental note that they don’t play well with others, and do the best you can.
Life isn’t fair, and sometimes bad things happen. There are ruthless people and that’s just (unfortunately) human nature. But there is much to be said for the win-win attitude, and to try helping others, instead of attacking them. Just remember, while there is breath in you, there breathes hope.
From: Twitter, @tweetsayings
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/niccolomac166592.html
Photo by bobsfever