This is an article series dissecting the best-selling book "The 48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene. In this article, we break down the Second Law of Power: Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn To Use Enemies.
Be wary of hiring your friends – they will betray you more quickly, for they're easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy, and he will be more loyal than a friend because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.
Transgression of the Law
In this chapter, Robert Greene references Michael III of the Byzantine Empire, who became ruler simply because his mother was involved in a conspiracy that had been constructed by his own uncle. Michael was young, inexperienced, and uncertain of who his allies were. So, he decided to entrust a friend to be his chief counselor, even though he wasn't qualified. Basilius had saved Michael’s life from a wild horse, and this initial act of kindness made the two close friends.
When Michael became emperor only a few years later, he continued to shower Basilius with gifts, money, and power...a little too much power. While Basilius turned into a monster of greed, Michael was ignorant of his "friend’s" true intentions of taking his throne. Ironically, Basilius, although he saved Michael’s life before, was eventually the one who took it by stabbing him to death. When Michael gave Basilius an inch, he took a mile, and, in the end, he won because of his ruthlessness and betrayal.
Be wary of hiring your friends – they will betray you more quickly, for they're easily aroused to envy.
Greene’s example may be boring, but not unrelatable. Replace Michael and Basilius with the fallout between frenemies, Regina George and Cady Heron from Mean Girls, and you’ve got the ultimate example of what Greene is implying here. Just think of all the ruthless and cunning ways Cady stole Regina’s crown. But honestly, were they ever really friends?
Observance of the Law
After the fall of the Hahn Dynasty, the Chinese were stuck in an endless era of corruption. Every time a new emperor was enthroned, army men would conspire, kill and replace him with another general. The betrayals persisted until General Chao K’uang-yin (Emperor Sung) took command and determined to break this cycle. At his celebration banquet, the most powerful commanders in the army were present and to these "enemies," he offered a proposal that would ensure a peaceful future for all.
To secure their loyalty and protect them from similar impending threats, should one of them become emperor, he asked them all to resign. In return, he would bestow them with lavish and secure lifestyles. They received riches, retired with respect, and lived the rest of their lives happily. In doing this, Emperor Sung abated his enemies. He continued to use similar tactics throughout his reign, and as a result, the Sung Dynasty lasted 300 years.
Hire a former enemy, and he will be more loyal than a friend because he has more to prove.
Greene’s point was that of Abraham Lincoln’s, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
There Are Two Primary Lessons That We Should Take Away from This Law
1. Connections are great, but credentials are better.
For example, if you’re failing chemistry, studying with friends may help you get a better grade, but hiring a chemistry tutor who has a proven track record in helping students progress is a more assured solution.
Additionally, in the workforce, we realize that hiring someone based merely on who they know doesn’t guarantee their competency for the position. If you’re in a position of power, make sure you’re doing more due diligence than favors when hiring. It's a safer general rule not to hire friends; however, that’s not necessarily an indication of ultimate distrust and failure if you're just as aware and prepared for the risks as you are for the benefits.
Hiring someone based merely on who they know doesn’t guarantee their competency for the position.
Often in the world of networking, you must do what Abraham Lincoln and Greene suggest – make friends out of your enemies. It’s more likely that you will have to build camaraderie with people you don’t like than ones you do (i.e., direct competition).
2. Familiarity doesn’t have to breed contempt.
We’ve all heard the sayings, “With friends like these who needs enemies?”, “Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer,” and “Familiarity breeds contempt,” but what affirms these cliché antidotes as words of wisdom?
Maybe the solution is not to find more enemies as Greene implies, but instead, it’s to find better friends. There are different types of friendships: ones of utility, ones of pleasure, and ones of virtue. It’s imperative for true maturity and growth to be mindful of the roles your friends play in your life. When you take stock of who you call friends, it may become evident that in fact you already have a few enemies in your midst. True friendship doesn’t end in hostile betrayal; that’s why it’s so important to reflect on how well we know our relationships.
There are different types of friendships: ones of utility, ones of pleasure, and ones of virtue.
Be mindful of friends vs. acquaintances. The beauty of social media is that it helps us to connect with a vast number of people, but it can also create a disillusionment of who is really a friend. Throughout our education and careers, our list of acquaintances will continue to grow, be careful not to put too much weight on the significance of these relationships as they will perpetually come and go.