A man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good."
This is a quote by Machiavelli, an often misunderstood political philosopher and diplomat from the 15th Century.
Machiavelli teaches us many things about human nature. His writings demonstrate quite clearly why it seems in politics there doesn't seem much honesty or integrity, since those qualities do not succeed in this cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world. Of course, Machiavelli has a bad press because his most quoted work, The Prince looks like a handbook in how to be evil. In fact, the way I look at it he was just giving us the tricks of the trade so that we, the public, could be wary of the motivations of those in power and identify and root out unethical behaviour. His book should be required reading at school.
I met and had a short correspondence with his great great (x whatever) grand-daughter after a chance meeting in Singapore a few years back. Just a stranger to me at the time, we were both wandering around Battle Box museum, another name for the Fort Canning Bunker, a bomb-proof command centre used during the Battle of Singapore, where the English surrendered to the Japanese in WWII, We kept on bumping into each other by various dusty and somewhat miserable mannequins, clad in appropriate military attire and poised in positions of action at tables or standing looking vacantly into the distance, presumably waiting for the Japanese to burst in. Or maybe it was just that they were, after all, just plastic dummies so lifeless and vacant eyes are pretty much unavoidable. I used the word "Machiavelli" in front of her in what was probably a lame attempt at some humour when she stopped dead in her tracks. She introduced herself as a direct descendant. What are the chances eh?
Outside of politics, Machiavelli offers guidance to me from an existential perspective. Not on how to screw everyone over before they do it to you, but to be aware that the potential exists for unfairness in life and not to get caught up in any kind of bubble believing that doing good to everyone regardless will result in a better world. I will carry on being altruistic, trying my best to be and kind and thoughtful to others as it's my code of conduct, the values I live by. But I, as should you, must be wary that there are those who do not share your ideals in life. Who would, given the opportunity, take and not return. Who would see your goodness and shaft, not share. So be wary of such people and walk away without a second glance. No point in letting them get under your skin, they are who they are, a product of their biology and experiences, and to be upset by them is to allow them some kind of power over your state of mind. Life is too short for that nonsense. Screw them.
So read The Prince, and Sun Tzu's The Art of War and learn how people can be. Then be the opposite. Until they mess with you. Then throw the book at them (the hardback version, preferably) as you walk away.
Weak people revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore." Albert Einstein