The Lion, the Fox, and the Human
Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian writer, statesman, and philosopher. His name is also synonymous with a personality disorder. Throughout the ages people have spoken against Machiavelli. I think he gets a bad rap.
Much of Machiavelli’s’ writing is about how to be a good ruler. Seeing as how rulers are also just people, at least until the machines finally take over for real, then parts of Machiavelli’s’ work can be seen as a guide to being a good person in general. Ruler or not.
How can you be effective without being rigid? How can you ensure productivity without being cruel These questions should concern both the highest lord and lowliest peon alike.
One of Machiavelli’s most famous quotes comes from The Prince and he says, “A Prince (Ruler) should be like the lion, but also like the fox.”
It is easy to see why you would want to emulate a lion. Lions are the default noble creatures in our imagination. A person who emulates a lion would appear to be a proud, powerful, and have a regal bearing. If you want to do good in the world, you will need people who believe in you. Everybody believes in the Lion. The Lion wastes neither time nor words convincing others of his capability. The Lion’s behavior speaks for itself. When you act like you are strong, noble, and just, people will think you are really all of those things. Act well enough, long enough, and one day you might not be acting anymore.
Machiavelli says a good ruler should also be like the Fox. Foxes are known for their cunning. If you want to be a good ruler, or even just a good person, it never hurts to be smart about it. Because of its intelligence, the Fox is not above scraping and scavenging. The good ruler, and good person, never lets anything useful go to waste. Finally, the clever Fox often works in the shadows, and is perfectly fine with that. Sometimes good rulers have to do things nobody ever knows about. Sometimes good people have to do things they will never get any credit for.
For Machiavelli, a good ruler is like a chimera, a mix between the Lion and the Fox .This might be enough to be a good ruler. In order to be a good person, though, you need to add a third creature to the hybrid mix. A good person should be like the Lion, and like the Fox, but should never forget that they are still human.
It is easy to get so caught up in trying to emulate something else that you forget what you really are. Lions and Foxes have a wonderful time, while being human can suck tremendously. Humans have severe weaknesses that make us feel insecure. We have doubts that can never be settled. Do you think a Lion ever has any doubts? We have questions that can’t be answered. Do you think a Fox ever feels stupid? And, most importantly, we care what other people think of us. Lions and Foxes probably don’t really care about anything.
These are perhaps the greatest weaknesses of the human, but can also be our greatest strengths. They should never be cast aside. So when you are being proud like a Lion, remember you are still human and doubt yourself a little. When you are being clever like a Fox, remember you are still human and ask a few questions. And whether you are going to be ruling over anyone or not, you should always care a little bit about what other people think of you. Otherwise, what’s the point in trying to be a good person at all?