Book Summary of How To Use Your Enemies by Baltasar Gracian
I was a bit cautious about reading this one.
The title makes it sound a lot more wierd than it actually is.
It is a bit wierd in parts though.
It’s not perfect.
But what is?
It’s written by a seventeeth century priest called Baltasar Gracian. It contains a number of passages on how to get by best in the world.
Probably swings more towards Macchivelli than J S Mill in terms of ideals. But.. It’s not really to the extreme side of either.
Kind of reads like one of those crappy mens magazines. You know, “10 New Ways to Be the Boss at Work”. Something like that. Although it is a lot better thought out. And actually useful. Strange that these magazines churn this crap out everyday as if it’s a new discovery when there were people like Baltasar Gracian were churning this type of stuff out back in the 1600s. And you can probably get it for free. I doubt it’s still under any copy write laws considering it was written so long ago. This book was only 80p for Christ’s sake. From Waterstones.
Like all books this is not meant to be taken as gospel. It’s not a perfect way to be. Just something to take on board if you feel it is pertinent to your situation. Advice that you could try out, so you can judge for yourself if it is a useful approach.
Or if you believe they are evil or wrong tactics, you can more easily identify when others are using them against you.
Most Interesting Points
“Know how to use your enemies. You must know how to take hold of everything – not by the blade, which wounds, but by the hilt, which defends. This applies especially to envy. Enemies are more of use to a wise man than friends are to the fool.”
Strange that even in the quiet life of a priest you can still have enemies. I guess often we have a pre disposed view of how someone in a certain profession is, when like all people they are multifaceted.
“Understand yourself: your temperament, intellect, opinions, emotions. You can’t be master of yourself if you don’t first understand yourself. There are mirrors for your face, but none for the spirit: Let discreet self-reflection be yours. And when you cease to care about your external image, focus on your inner one to correct and improve it. Know how strong your good sense and perspicacity are for any undertaking and evaluate your capacity for overcoming obstacles. Fathom your depths and weigh up your capacity for all things.”
Not to be confused with trying to work out exactly who you are. You are not one concrete person that can never change, but learning to understand yourself and others is an important skill.
“A short cut to being a true person: know how to rub shoulders with others. Interaction is very effective: custom and taste can be learnt, character and even ingenuity can rub off on you without your knowing. Let the impulsive get together with those who are restrained, and similarly other opposite temperaments. In this way, a proper balance will be effortlessly achieved. To know how to accommodate is a great skill. The alternation of opposites beautifies and sustains creation, and it creates harmony in the natural world, even more so in the moral sphere. Make use of this political advice when choosing friends and helpers, for from such communication between extremes, a discreet balance will be achieved.”
“Have friends. They are a second self. To a friend, another friend is always good and wise; between friends, everything turns out well. You are worth as much as others say you are, and to win their good words, win their hearts. Performing a service for another works like a charm, and the best way to win friends is to do people favours. The greatest and the best that we have depend on others.”
“Don’t be inaccessible. Nobody is so perfect that they don’t sometimes need advice. Someone who refuses to listen is an incurable fool. The most independent person must still accept the need for friendly advice; even a monarch must be willing to be taught. There are individuals beyond all help because they are inaccessible and who come unstuck because nobody dares to stop them. The most self sufficient person must leave a door open to friendship, from where all help will come.”
Be humble! 🙂
“Avoid stepping into great men’s shoes. And if you do, be sure of your own superiority. To equal your predecessor you will need to be worth twice as much. Just as it’s a good strategy to make sure your successor is such that people will miss you, so also to make sure your predecessor doesn’t eclipse you.”
Some of this seems misguided. The good of your team should be the most important thing to you, not how you look. Try to put the best person in for the job. Always put your team first otherwise you will certainly not be missed. However make sure you do things your way, rather than trying to completely emulate somebody else.
“Don’t hold opinions doggedly. Every fool is utterly convinced, and everyone utterly convinced is a fool, and the more mistaken their opinion, the greater their tenacity. Even when the evidence is clear, it’s sensible to yield, for the correctness of your position will not go unnoticed, and your politeness will be recognized. More is lost with stubborn insistence than can be gained by winning; this is not to defend truth, but vulgarity. There are those who are completely stubborn, difficult to convince, incurably vehement; when caprice and conviction are found together, they are always indissolubly wed to folly. Your will must be tenacious, not your judgement. There are, however, exceptions when you mustn’t lose and be doubly defeated, one in an argument, and again in it’s consequences.”
Some cool words here:
Vehement – Showing strong feeling; forceful, passionate, or intense
Indissoluble – Unable to be destroyed; lasting.
Caprice – A sudden or unaccountable change of mood or behaviour.
Pertinent – Relevant or applicable to a particular matter; apposite.
The sentence “There are those who are completely stubborn, difficult to convince, incurably vehement; when caprice and conviction are found together, they are always indissolubly wed to folly.” The words used give a very good picture of the type of person he is talking about. Keep in mind to correct yourself and be open if you ever find yourself acting this way. “Your will must be tenacious, not your judgement.”
“A truly peaceable person is a person with a long life. To live, let live. The peaceable not only live, but reign. You should see and hear, but remain silent. A day without argument leads to a sleep filled night. To live a lot and to enjoy a lot is to live twice: this is the fruit of peace. A person has everything who cares nothing about what matters little. There’s no greater absurdity than taking everything seriously. Similarly, it’s stupid to take things to heart that don’t concern you, and not to take to heart those that are important.”
Be happy and peaceful in your coexistence with others.
“Anything foreign is valued, either because it comes from a distance or because it’s only encountered perfect and complete. We have all seen individuals who are utterly scorned in their backyards and who are now the toast of the world, held in high esteem by their countrymen because their deeds are followed from a distance, and foreigners because they have come from afar.”
It’s important to travel to different areas and hone your skills in different environments. Sharpening your tools on a non critical stage can be a safe place to practice before showcasing them to the world, just as being in a harsh, unforgiving environment can be a good place to get good before moving on somewhere else.
“Know how to divide up your time wisely, not as things arise, but with foresight and discrimination. Life is arduous without any breaks, like a long journey without any inns. Learned variety makes it pleasant. Spend the first day of a fine life in communication with the dead. We are born to know others and to know ourselves, and books reliably turn us into people. Spend the second part with the living: see and examine all that’s good in the world. Not everything can be found in one country; the universal father has shared out his gifts and sometimes endows the ugliest with the most. Let the third stage be spent entirely with yourself: the ultimate happiness, to philosophize.”
“You will never belong entirely to someone else nor they to you. Neither ties of blood, nor friendship, nor the most pressing obligation are sufficient for this, for there’s a big difference between opening your heart and surrendering your will. Even the greatest intimacy has it’s limits, and the laws of courtesy are not offended by this. A friend always keeps some secret to himself and a son conceals something from his father. You conceal things from some people that you reveal to others, and vice versa, and thus distinguishing between people, you end up revealing everything and withholding everything.”
People not knowing this damages relationships. A lot of abusive relationships probably stem from one person feeling they have complete ownership of the other. No matter what relationship we are applying this to, family, friends, or partners, we have to accept that people have their own minds and preferences, and will often do things we disagree with, and vice versa. Knowing this and trying to understand people and accept that they are who they are is the first step to strong relationships.