When I was fresh out of college and starting my writing career at a magazine in New York, I will never forget a particularly lovely spring afternoon in which the editor of the magazine invited me for lunch to discuss my latest article. I thought it was a good piece I had written and was expecting some praise. Instead, he proceeded to dissect the article, explain why it was so bad, why I would never be a writer, and what other careers I should think about.
This of course shocked me. But instead of thinking of myself, I couldn’t help study the man who was saying this. He was downing one gin and tonic after another, in the middle of the afternoon. The following image came to me, one I remember to this day as vividly as ever: this man was like a house that looked okay from the outside, but on the inside, all of the beams and supports were rotting and termite infested…from alcohol, from his own sad life. I also had the feeling that maybe some twenty years earlier another editor had given him the same ugly talk, and it worked, and so instead of being a writer, he turned into a dried-up editor, full of regrets. His way was not to help others avoid the same mistake, but to do the opposite.
I went home and thought about this, a lot. Yes, my writing could sometimes be a little chaotic and all over the place, but I was young, finding my voice. Deep down inside of myself I had faith. I was different and weird, and I would express it in words or go down in flames. But why was this man deliberately trying to sabotage me? Why not be constructive and helpful? It soon dawned on me that this was not an objective opinion on his part, but some twisted need to put down other young writers. Working with mediocre writers made him feel better about himself. With such writers, he could do a lot of editing, which was obviously his big joy in life. Analyzing it in this way, I felt I had absorbed my first body blow in the work world and had survived.
Over the years, I collected many more body blows from idiotic editors, manipulative bosses who took credit for my work, sadistic managers who wanted to show their power, saboteurs of all kinds (what can I say, I worked in Hollywood for several years.) But for some reason this first one has always stood out, because it taught me something I will never forget: there are ugly people in the world.
They manipulate, play political games, etc. Their first concern is not doing a good job but protecting their egos, assuaging their insecurities. It is not my role in life to figure out what their problem is, or what made them this way, or how I can help them. I am not a social worker. I will not get sucked into their dynamic, or allow my emotions to be entangled in their games. It is nothing personal. Their problems go way back, to mommy and daddy, no doubt. I will get out of their way, or I will find ways to protect myself, or even return their blows if necessary. It can be rough out there, and I am not going to whine about it or complain, I am going to succeed and have the last laugh in this life.
I can honestly say that this turned into my creed, my motto over the years. And out of this eventually emerged The 48 Laws of Power, and The Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies War, and the others that will follow. I may write about the Borgias and Ivan the Terribles, but I am always thinking of these real-life characters, that first editor and so on, who 500 years ago would be putting people to death who crossed their path, instead of putting them down.
The reason I write this here, on my first real blog entry, is that I want this to be a place where all of you can come to share your own similar stories of games that have been played on you, intrigues, weirdnesses of all kinds. This can concern office and work issues, all of the political crap that gets in the way of doing a good job. The more personal the better. But it can also be about things in the news—I plan on using this forum to expose and dissect the various maneuvers of public figures who outwardly seem pleasant enough, but who behind the scenes are doing things right out of the Sopranos. (Karl Rove will be a major figure here.)
I want this to be the ultimate forum for revealing and discussing in depth the dark side of our culture and our relationships, not to revel in it, but to help all of us deal with the inevitable power games we encounter. We don’t talk about vengeance or violence here, but strategy, because defeating our opponents with intelligence is the ultimate victory in life. Our guiding spirit is Sun-tzu, not Attila the Hun.
(Robert Greene is the author of the books The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction and The 33 Strategies of War.)
It would be easy to shake your head and dismiss Greene as another power and dominance craving sociopath. But don't make that mistake. Greene's stated intention is not to glorify or enable such people. Rather, he wants to expose them. To explain their tactics. And ultimately, to allow us to escape their grasp by understanding them better than they understand themselves. When we play their games, we come under their power. But if we understand and recognize the strategies of the manipulators, we break their power.
We must be careful, as Neitzche said, not to become monsters ourselves when we hunt monsters. But willful ignorance in the ways of monsters does not make us stronger against them. Knowledge is our best and strongest defense. (I'm already looking forward to reading The Art of Seduction with an eye towards understanding the tactics of a few folks I've known who showed themselves to be masterful manipulators of people and relationships.)
"Know thy enemy, know thyself - find nothing to fear in 100 battles." -Sun Tzu