Crush Your Enemy Totally (Except When You Shouldn’t)

In 1948, Bumpy Johnson was the Godfather of Harlem. As a favor, he took a boy under his wing named Flash. He let him live in his house, had him running errands, let him tag along when he picked up protection money – all the stuff that Frank Lucas claimed do to for Bumpy in American Gangster.

Flash got ahead of himself and started running bad checks through Bumpy’s clean bank accounts and allegedly hit on his daughters. He got caught up and over his head and made a succession of unforgivable mistakes. The hammer fell quickly. He beat Flash within an inch of his life on a public street corner. He never even raised his hands to resist. And after a final kick to the head, Bumpy never looked at him again.

Bumpy’s crew pleaded that he kill him. With an ass-kicking like that, they said, he’d made himself an enemy for life. He had. Within just a few weeks, Bumpy caught a young woman sent to plant heroin in his house. Later, Flash flipped to the police and snitched on crimes that he’d never even committed. Bumpy did ten years in Alcatraz.

I don’t think the lesson is that he should have killed him, although Robert Greene is often right. Maybe he shouldn’t have beaten him in the first place. Responding emotionally, as I’m quickly learning, is rarely a good idea. Are the consequences of publicly humiliating someone really worth that soothing rush of adrenaline? It probably says more about you than it does about them. That whole, “I’ve got to assert my dominance or I won’t feel good about myself,” is as much weakness as it is anything else. A lot is said about ruthlessness and power, but maybe not enough about restraint.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.