Archive for August, 2017

Want a Healthy Relationship? Leave Machiavelli at the Door

14 Aug

The Prince by Italian political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli is a 16th century work that aspires to demonstrate to rulers or would be rulers how to govern. Although many believe the piece to be nothing more than satire crafted as a veiled insult to the Medici family who ruled over Machiavelli’s native Florence, the work nonetheless is not only a classic, but provides a diabolical blueprint for those who aspire to attain power and/or to retain it using an ‘any means necessary’ approach. In fact, Machiavelli’s contributions have been so pronounced that the term ‘Machiavellian’ has been coined to refer to types of behaviour which can be classified as cold, merciless, calculated, aggressive, suspicious, and generally morally dubious.

            Although the Machiavellian style of comportment can manifest itself in different ways and across a variety of social settings, it is perhaps most commonly associated and visible in the professional/employment context. In the world of business it is hardly shocking to find people and/or companies as a whole undertaking a myriad of actions which are not only morally questionable, but borderline (and often over the line) illegal. The zeal, if not the necessity to get ahead, not only fosters a competitive mentality, but one that is hyper aggressive, often unrepentant, and solely self-interested. While this unfortunately may be standard practice in business, it should not be and cannot be the approach to a healthy relationship.

            For generations men have generally been considered the primary breadwinners for their families and as such it should also come as no surprise that they also are considered the more aggressive, selfish, and less caring partner in relationships. Whether or not these characteristics have come from the need to provide for their families or traits that have been engrained in men as a result of generational gender stereotypes (or possibly even biologically linked as some social scientists like Gil-White would have you believe), traditionally I would argue they are again associated with (most) men. However, since the first feminist wave in the early twentieth century, women have not only been demanding equal opportunities and equal treatment under the law, but have also been entering the work force en masse as well. As such, it should come as no surprise that now in addition to men, women are also espousing many of the Machiavellian principles in order to fit standard practice and fit in at work. And again, while the focus of this piece is not on evaluating the merits of the Machiavellian approach in the professional context / business world as it may indeed be the case that one needs to adopt that approach to ensure one’s job security or profit every quarter, but in no way can a relationship where one, let alone two partners approach their relationship with the Machiavellian template be successful. As such, it is perhaps for this reason more than any other why relationships between men and women are so precarious today. And while some might highlight that the divorce rate has stabilized and has occasionally trended down recently, it should also be pointed out that the marriage rate over the same period has fallen at even greater rate indicating that a smaller number people are achieving bliss through marriage Moreover, while couples do not necessarily have to get married to be considered happy and healthy, recent data suggests that more people are remaining single (whether by choice or by circumstance) than ever before .

            As such, I would argue that if you wish to remain single and solely focus on your career, than the Machiavellian approach can be your avenue as long as you do not have too strong of a conscience. However, if you envision a long-term relationship in your future under no circumstance can you bring that approach which may work at the office home with you at the end of your work day. It was bad enough when for generations men expected their wives to counter balance their aggressive, uncompromising and confrontational tendencies, but now that both genders have proliferated the workforce and have options, there is no way whether you are a man or woman and you bring home your Machiavellian tendencies will your relationship be healthy, let alone likely to survive. While relationships can end for a variety of reasons even if you are a caring, loving, and patient spouse, the take-away is that it will end if you treat your partner with the type of Machiavellian behaviour outlined in this piece lest they be cut from some ultra-rare overly forgiving old world cloth.  As such, while being uncompromising, aggressive, and cold might make for a great CEO, it does not make for good life partner.

In sum, whether or not you choose to espouse the Machiavellian approach at work is certainly your prerogative, but if you do wish to have a healthy and long lasting personal relationship, I would certainly advise you to do all you can to leave your Machiavellian tendencies at your front door and instead try your best to be genuinely kind, understanding, forgiving, giving, and when differences of opinion arise as they do in all relationships, do your best to address them rationally while being calm and considerate. Of course, if one were to adopt the non-Machiavellian approach to more facets of life (including professional), the need to transition at the end of the day becomes that much simpler. 

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