Trust (The Prince)

And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; be­cause friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails. – The Prince, Machiavelli 

Machiavelli does not impel his reader to distrust all people, but only those that were secured through mutual interest. It is a riskier to start a business with someone you don’t know well than someone you can trust – that much is obvious.

But the other idea is to use fear as your weapon rather than love. People are fickle and if they are properly motivated, they will turn against you. When you appeal to love, you are at the mercy of their memory, and how they choose to react to it. You hope that their sense of guilt or their piety overcomes their selfish desires – forgetting that the basis of your friendship was self-interest. It shouldn’t be surprising if a stranger exploits your kindness.

Often people think that treating others well will earn their loyalty. Nothing is further from the truth. People are especially prone to ignore the favors you have done for them in the past. What matters to everyone is the present and the future.

The trap of believing that your good deeds in the past will protect you in the future is prevalent in history – and there have been many stories where the victims of this misguided philosophy find themselves shocked at the misbehavior of their friends.

In The 48 Laws of Power, Greene tells us the story of Michael III and Basilius. Michael III ascends to power with help from his uncle, Bardas. One day, he was saved from wild horses that were let loose from their stables by a young man called Basilius, a stable boy. With time, the two built a great relationship, with Michael III repaying him with money and gift. In fact, Michael hired him as a political adviser, after he paid for his education. Basilius saw what life was like for an aristocrat, how it contrasted so dramatically with the tedium of tending to horses.

Time passed and his ambitions for power grew steadily, until eventually he saw an opening. Michael’s uncle was the commander of the army at the time, and Basilius saw him as an obstacle in his way. He poured poison into Michael’s ears and told him that the commander planned to kill him and become king. Michael was persuaded and had his uncle murdered. Basilius then suggested that he should become the commander of the army to prevent disorder and chaos. Michael obliged.

The wise man would rather see men needing him than thanking him. To keep them on the threshold of hope is diplomatic, to trust to their gratitude boorish; hope has a good memory, gratitude a bad one. More is to be got from dependence than from courtesy. He that has satisfied his thirst turns his back on the well, and the orange once sucked falls from the golden platter into the waste basket. When dependence disappears, good behavior goes with it as well as respect. – Baltasar Gracian

Years later, Michael needed help. He had lost his money because of bad spending habits. He went to Basilius for help, but his friend refused – with a sinister look on his face. Basilius had risen in power during those years, and a few days after his friend’s request, he had him killed, and displayed Michael’s head on the tip of his pike.

Michael thought that Basilius could always be trusted after what he done for him, and the relationship they had in the past. He relied on the virtue of his friend. But he was not shrewd enough to recognize the folly in exposing Basilius to the world of power, where deception was an art form. And he didn’t question his friend’s intentions when he was advised to kill Bardas. His gullibility and poor understanding of human nature led to his brutal murder.

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit, because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure. – Tacitus 

Nicolas Tesla was a brilliant inventor, he was the man behind the Alternating Current (AC) in electricity, and his ideas led to the development of the radio. But Tesla was a bad businessman and he put too much trust in others. He traveled to America thanks to advice from a friend. There, he met Thomas Edison, who was working on dynamos at the time. Edison hired Tesla to work for him, and he offered him a reward of $50,000 if he could improve his current technology. This project could have taken years, with no reward, but Tesla managed to solve the riddle in under a year. But when he went to collect his check, he was met with a sly remark from Edison, who told him that he was only joking – and that he had to get used to the American sense of humor. He gave him a small salary bump instead.

Tesla then worked for Westinghouse, a businessman with his own electricity company. Tesla’s research led to the discovery of the Alternating Current (AC) system. But the company was taken over by JP Morgan, and Westinghouse persuaded Tesla to sell his patent for a fraction of what it was worth to save the company. He accepted and was given $216,000 while the patent was worth over $2 million.

Tesla lived in poverty later in life, and looked back at his life in sorrow. When he was young, he didn’t care about money and fame – he loved science. He wanted to explore and invent things and that was an integral factor in his genius. He didn’t bother himself with matters of business. While that freed him up to do what he loved, it also created a blind spot. Tesla’s humbleness and virtue made him an easy target for others. The business magnates at the time saw Tesla as a tool that could be bought and sold. They didn’t care about science, they cared about profit. To them, Tesla could be replaced with another scientist who would happily earn less. They believed in deception and power, Tesla believed in truth and honesty.

Tesla made a fortune for others but couldn’t benefit from his own genius, His unselfishness was a virtue that cost him dearly.

it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something else, which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and pros­perity.  – The Prince, Machiavelli

Here is a summary of Law 7 and Law 2 from The 48 Laws of Power.




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