The Art Of Stealth, Part 2: “Do Not Commit To Anyone, But Be Courted By All”

Welcome to the second episode of The Art of Stealth. The purpose of this series is to learn and master the strategies that others have used to get ahead. It’s intended to serve as part of a 21st century “mirror” for sojourners. The “mirror for princes” genre was a type of political writing that was very popular during the European Renaissance of the 14th through 17th centuries. These books taught rulers how to behave in order to avoid having reigns that were violent, tragic, and most of all, short. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli is the most famous example of this genre. The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Balthasar Gracian is another popular example of this genre. Currently, these books are mostly read as a form of self-help literature. Most African-Americans havenever heard of them. This is a pity. This lack of knowledge makes us vulnerable. Vulnerable to hype, and vulnerable to the wiles of others who are familiar with the wisdom contained in these books.

AFRICAN-AMERICANS ARE TOO QUICK TO TAKE SIDES. THIS IS FOOLISH.

Today’s quote is from The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene,

It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others—playing people against one another, making them pursue you.

(emphasis added) The 48 Laws of Power, pg. 145.

Once you step into a fight that is not of your own choosing, you lose all initiative. The combatants’ interests become your interests; you become their tool. Learn to control yourself, to restrain your natural tendency to take sides and join the fight. Be friendly and charming to each of the combatants, then step back as they collide. With every battle they grow weaker, while you grow stronger with every battle you avoid. [pg. 152]

To play the game properly, you must seem interested in other people’s problems, even sometimes appear to take their side. But while you make outward gestures of support, you must maintain your inner energy and sanity by keeping your emotions disengaged. No matter how hard people try to pull you in, never let your interest in their affairs and petty squabbles go beyond the surface. Give them gifts, listen with a sympathetic look, even occasionally play the charmer—but inwardly keep both the friendly kings and the perfidious Borgias at arm’s length. [pg. 153]

. . . Preserving your autonomy gives you options when people come to blows—you can play the mediator, broker the peace, while really securing your own interests. You can pledge support to one side and the other may have to court you with a higher bid. [pg. 153]

THE DISADVANTAGES CAUSED BY OUR QUICKNESS TO TAKE SIDES ARE OBVIOUS

I assume that most folks in the audience can recognize that the above-described behavior is exactly how most other people of color, including non-African-American Blacks, have handled their interactions with us. This is wise of them. This behavior enables them to keep friendly relations with all factions while African-Americans endlessly fight various equal rights battles over the years. This means that no matter who wins or loses, they’re in good shape when the dust settles.

Often, we continue to be good “guard dogs” who fight these other people’s enemies—even after they’ve reconciled!

The disadvantages to African-Americans’ unfortunate habit of rushing to take sides should be equally obvious: Nobody has to “bid” for our support because we offer it automatically and freely. We unnecessarily make other people’s enemies our enemies. We drain our own resources while fighting other people’s battles. We naively assume that every fight is a principled crusade, when most times it’s actually about advancing other people’s personal ambitions. Finally, the people whose causes we support discard us at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, we engage in this foolish behavior across the board—at work, at college, in politics, in our personal lives.

Learn from the so-called biracial and multicultural “rainbow chicks,” and other people of color:

  • Listen sympathetically, but don’t commit to other people’s causes.
  • Quietly hedge your bets and secure your own interests.
  • Position yourself to be able to get with whoever wins.

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14 Responses to “The Art Of Stealth, Part 2: “Do Not Commit To Anyone, But Be Courted By All””

  1. **A Shout Out to Sharifa**

    Sharifa,

    Congratulations on triggering the publication of Part 2 of this series. During the Part 1 conversation, I was waiting to see how long it would take for an audience member to mention The 48 Laws of Power book by Robert Greene. Knowing how hip the audience is, I figured that it wouldn’t take long at all. :-)

    I had decided that I would publish Part 2 as soon as somebody mentioned that book (because Part 2 deals with some quotes from one chapter in the book).

    Thanks, Sharifa! As my aunt says, “We’re cooking with gas!” LOL!

    Expect Success!

  2. Lorie says:

    Hi Khadijah,

    During some downtime at the office, I chatted with colleague, one of the few BM I ever speak to (because he has invested in me). He once shared the following story: A WM needed food so he got a BM to hunt for him. <–(this is the problem, IMO) After the BM brings him a cow, the WM says "get back" and cuts large, quality portions for himself and his loved ones, then his W neighbors and then left some scraps for the hunter. I asked, "Well, what do you think the takeaway is?" He said something to the effect of "the WM should give us a bigger cut!"

    LOL! This post reminded me of that story. My collegue, who is actually very smart (or so I thought), subconciously accepts the role of servant in the story and in real life, apparently. (Why am I surprised?) When we fight other people's battles without adequate compensation, we are subordinating our needs to those of our "masters." No one courts a slave.

    Also, thanks for the book recommendations. I was familiar with The Prince and The 48 Laws of Power but had never heard of The Art of Worldly Wisdom until now. Thanks, again. I will reread and learn how to better apply to real life situations.

  3. Hi Lorie,

    You’re welcome!

    You said, “When we fight other people’s battles without adequate compensation, we are subordinating our needs to those of our “masters.” No one courts a slave.”

    Indeed. And this is the main point. AAs have the bad habit of engaging in various knee-jerk reactions. Without ever pausing to ask the question, “What’s in it for me or mine?” In terms of politics, this knee-jerk habit is the reason why we’re the only ones who are “odd man out.” Everybody else—including the illegal Latino immigrants and their “anchor baby” children—are being courted by all political parties.

    To continue with the politics example—Sometimes there are instances where it’s not really feasible to play the main factions against each other. This is because one side is simply too toxic to deal with. For example, the hardcore-racist-since-the-1960s Republican Party.

    But even in this example, we could create room to manuever if we started playing our cards better. No, we can’t leverage the Democratic Party into offering reciprocity by hinting that we might go Republican. That’s not a credible implied threat at this point. But we could maneuver both parties into having to court us by placing ourselves in the “spoiler” position—we could get into the position to be able to deny victory to either the Republicans and the Democrats. We could do this by building a credible 3rd political party.

    Since AAs made the historical mistake of always engaging in unreciprocated bloc voting (unlike others who have historically hedged their bets—Latinos, Mormons, etc.), we put ourselves in the bad spot of NOT having to be courted by either of the 2 main parties.

    Expect Success!

  4. This reminds me a lot of Elizabeth I, who I’ve been reading about a lot lately. (Alison Weir has some excellent books about the Tudors if anyone is interested. I’m such a history geek.) Anyway there have been reams written about the possible reasons Elizabeth never married, but it’s clear that it was a political tool that she wielded for almost the entirety of her reign. There were many competitive political factions throughout Europe at the time and she held out the possibility of marriage as a lure to whomever she needed at the time. In particular I love the way she would say, “I’m just a poor frail woman,” when in fact she was the most powerful woman in the world. Reading the way she played puppet master to some of the most powerful men in the world is almost a primer in the art of stealth.

    • Sharifa says:

      I’m currently reading a good bio of Elizabeth I by David Starkey. I also love the movie, “Elizabeth.” Yes, her use of her use of femininity and ability to play both sides was shrewd.

  5. Roslyn,

    You said, “This reminds me a lot of Elizabeth I, who I’ve been reading about a lot lately. (Alison Weir has some excellent books about the Tudors if anyone is interested. I’m such a history geek.) Anyway there have been reams written about the possible reasons Elizabeth never married, but it’s clear that it was a political tool that she wielded for almost the entirety of her reign. There were many competitive political factions throughout Europe at the time and she held out the possibility of marriage as a lure to whomever she needed at the time.”

    Exactly! Elizabeth I is one of the main examples that the 48 Laws book cites as a successful example of the use of this strategy. What I find amazing is that Elizabeth I was able to keep this particular game going for so long. She had some serious skills! I’m also a history geek—thanks for mentioning Alison Weir’s books. I’ll check them out.

    Expect Success!

  6. Sharifa says:

    I think one of the unfortunate consequences of our civil rights efforts is this sense people have that AA’s have no legitimate claim to self-determination (which I view as a fundamentally racist idea); that we were fighting for the principles of freedom and equality, with no desire to have it ourselves. So now we are seen as the conduit through which all others (immigrants, etc) can obtain freedom and opportunity, but we ourselves should have nothing (as an example, I think of the non-AA ethic retail districts around the country, and how people have viewed AA attempts to establish these for ourselves as ‘reverse racism’). It seems that people have even become so confused that they believe the “C” in NAACP stands for colored, meaning all ‘people of color'; you can see how much energy and resources that org spends fighting others’ battles.

    We have such a bad habit of giving everything away for nothing. We even give away ‘honorary blackness’ to outsiders. SMH.

    This particular law you’ve highlighted is one I always try to keep in mind at the office. I try my best to stay ‘above the fray,’ and not get involved in other’s entaglements, as smoothly, and politically as possible.

    In the Greene book, the only BW mentioned was Cleopatra, I think. Khadija, can you think of any AA women who are good examples of those who were able to follow these laws?

    Thanks for the shout out!

  7. Sharifa,

    You said, “I think one of the unfortunate consequences of our civil rights efforts is this sense people have that AA’s have no legitimate claim to self-determination (which I view as a fundamentally racist idea); that we were fighting for the principles of freedom and equality, with no desire to have it ourselves.”

    I agree. And even worse is the fact that AAs have internalized the idea that we must put freedom and equality FOR OTHERS ahead of our own interests. We view ourselves “as the conduit through which all others (immigrants, etc) can obtain freedom and opportunity, but we ourselves should have nothing…” This is downright crazy on one level. But on another level, this is what our centuries-long, slave conditioning process has trained most of us to do. That slave habit of serving other people before serving yourself doesn’t automatically die. As with our colorism, we’ve simply come up with shiny new labels to describe that centuries-long ingrained behavior.

    As another commenter said in another post, AAs needed some intensive therapy after the end of slavery. But that idea hadn’t even been conceived of during that era. And so here we are in the 21st century still dealing with many of these same conditioned dysfunctional behavior patterns. As well as some newfangled dysfunctions! We’ve simply transferred our now-voluntary servitude to other sets of people.

    You said, “This particular law you’ve highlighted is one I always try to keep in mind at the office. I try my best to stay ‘above the fray,’ and not get involved in other’s entaglements, as smoothly, and politically as possible.”

    The same for me. In my case, I had to re-train myself to stop crusading for anything or anybody except me, myself, and I. I had to learn how to make Me, Myself & I the charity I support the most. {chuckling}

    You said, “In the Greene book, the only BW mentioned was Cleopatra, I think. Khadija, can you think of any AA women who are good examples of those who were able to follow these laws?”

    Now, that’s a hard question. There are so few thorough memoirs or biographies written about AA women. And the few that exist tend to not focus on those sorts of dynamics and nuances. I would suppose that most AA women who reached a certain level of success in extremely hostile eras and environments probably had to use many of these same principles to reach that level of success.

    For one example, I’m thinking of Madam C.J. Walker’s protracted efforts to get Booker T. Washington’s support (as described in the book On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker. But that’s not the sort of history that’s overtly documented or focused on in most of the books I’ve read. There might be mention here and there, but that’s not the focus.

    Expect Success!

    • ak says:

      Khadija:

      As with our colorism, we’ve simply come up with shiny new labels to describe that centuries-long ingrained behavior.

      It seems to me that a lot of black people nowadays are proudly colorist as from the people from the mainstream DBR un-culture you’ve quoted on your blog several times who exalt anyone who is, or who looks like a mixed race person.

      You said colorism was easier to deal with back in the School Daze era of the 80s than today, and it’s true because in the 80s and before then black people were more ashamed of their ways, and didn’t want to give whites fuel to their fire so they’d hide their ways a bit more.

      Now black people just straight up say what’s really on their minds.

  8. lafemmenoir says:

    -Listen sympathetically, but don’t commit to other people’s causes.
    -Quietly hedge your bets and secure your own interests.
    -Position yourself to be able to get with whoever wins.

    I find these tactics especially helpful when working in an environment with mostly women. For some reason or another, there is always some conflict going on, and I always sidestep it by never allowing myself to be pulled into it. For the most part, I only invest in people who will help me reach my goals and then I am careful about how much I let them in then. I find that this works best for me emotionally, too.

  9. AK,

    You said, “You said colorism was easier to deal with back in the School Daze era of the 80s than today, and it’s true because in the 80s and before then black people were more ashamed of their ways, and didn’t want to give whites fuel to their fire so they’d hide their ways a bit more.”

    Oh, yeah. At least before, we would try to pretend like we had some self-respect. Now, “the funk is uncut”!
    ________________________________________________

    Lafemmenoir,

    You said, “I find these tactics especially helpful when working in an environment with mostly women. For some reason or another, there is always some conflict going on, and I always sidestep it by never allowing myself to be pulled into it.”

    Yep. I’ve noticed that far too many women have the yucky habit of keeping a lot of mess going on at work. It’s a lot like high school—these silly women have an ever-rotating set of other women that they hate on. It’s crazy, they’re crazy, and I work very hard to stay waaay clear of all of that mess.

    Expect Success!

  10. Hodan says:

    Khadija: “The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli is the most famous example of this genre. The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Balthasar Gracian is another popular example of this genre. Currently, these books are mostly read as a form of self-help literature. Most African-Americans have never heard of them. This is a pity. This lack of knowledge makes us vulnerable. Vulnerable to hype, and vulnerable to the wiles of others who are familiar with the wisdom contained in these books.”

    Hodan: I loooooooove Machiavelli, he is the god father of Western modern political thought/governing. I remember getting that book in my Polysci theory 101 as a junior in college and understood why every revolutionary movement have been an utter failure in 3rd world countries.Its manipulative eve dangerous to real democracy, but Prince speaks to those who want to govern with the illusion of a free society.

    I agree with you that us black people in general regardless of where we come from are quick to air our opinions and defend every Jack and Jill, without thinking thru how it will harm our self interest in the long run.I was the person you describe in the post after this one, mostly in my teens, but I grew out of it fast as maturity and life experience came home to roost.

  11. Hodan says:

    sorry for the double post, but this quote describes President Obama to a tee:

    “It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others—playing people against one another, making them pursue you.”

    He might veer from it ones in a bloom (aka police acted stupidly comment in the case of Prof Gate), but to this day he survives politically despite all the trash throw out of him daily to scare white people, high unemployment, increased poverty rate, pointless wars. This is a man @ the height of Americans dislike for government and the foundation of a constitutional Republic manages to draw over 26K mostly white kids and adults during his visit to Madison Wisconsin few days ago.

    When left leaning blogsphere or talking head rage @ Obama and why he is not ideological enough, they do not understand his political plan has never been about governing from either left or right…….I admire him and Michelle even though I disagree with a lot of his centrist policies.

    • Hodan,

      I respectfully and cheerfully disagree. In my view, Pres. Obama is backstabbing the people who supported him in order to unsuccessfully appease the people who will NEVER support him. This is one of several reasons why Obama will probably be a one-term president.

      He has managed to quickly alienate just about every demographic that supported his election (progressives, gays and lesbians, labor, health activists, Latinos/immigrant supporters, etc.). Even the AA Obama-ssiah worshippers are growing lukewarm in their support of him. Many of the above sections of the electorate will stay home and not vote in the next few elections.

      Which means that the Democrats lose what little official numerical control they had in Congress (not that they were actually using it). Which means that the Republicans are in a stronger position to more effectively block Pres. Obama’s lukewarm policies. Which further alienates his previous supporters. Which almost guarantees that the non-AA ones either: (1) stay home and not vote, (2) vote for so-called moderate Republicans, or (3) vote for independent/3rd party candidates in the future.

      People did NOT vote for Obama so he could be committed to no cause but himself. He held himself out as an agent of change. Not as what he has shown himself to be—George W. Bush’s 3rd term. For the details, see these posts at the previous blog:
      http://muslimbushido.blogspot.com/search/label/the%20change%20that%20never%20came

      So far, Pres. Obama is on track to learn the same lesson that Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty recently learned. See the Washington Post story, “How Adrian Fenty Lost His Reelection Bid For D.C. Mayor.”
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/15/AR2010091500834.html?hpid=topnews

      Expect Success!