How to Repay Your Enemies

How do you repay the people who fucked you over?

It is a little harder to get into one post just because there are so many ways that people can wrong you. There is the overt action: the attack, the theft, the lie, the deliberate slight. And then there is the let down, the negligence, laziness, and occasionally, there’s someone with contagious bad luck. Most of the time, we ignore it. As we should. But sometimes, we can’t.

Imagine you are Sam Zemurray. You try to give friendly advice to the company you love, try to contribute through the proper channels, but they slam the door in your face. They are running your baby into the ground. You know what must be done.  So you go to the board meeting in New York City, you sit there quietly. Then you raise your hand and speak. They laugh in your face, mock your difficult accent. You storm out, maybe they think they’ve won.

When you return, it’s armed with the stock proxies for a majority share in the company. “You gentlemen have been fucking up this this business long enough. I’m going to straighten it out.” And now it’s time to drop the hammer: “You’re fired. Can you understand that, Mr. Chairman?” as you fling the bag of proxies across the table.

Sometimes an aggressive strike, or even revenge, is not emotion—but strategy (like a co-worker who is steadily encroaching on your projects despite discussions, or perhaps you need to generate a little controversy to get press). Robert Greene calls this “knowing when to be bad.”

One element of mastery is the ability to no longer need to react emotionally. To know what you need to do and not be distracted by immediacy. Repaying your enemies properly—and effectively—maintains that rule.

Only the top predators can afford to toy with their prey. As Ambrose Bierce once said, real skill is to “stab, beg pardon and turn the weapon in the wound.” Only the best can manage effective action as an artistic statement. But those who can, have all the fun.

A sad part of it all is this: people do you wrong out of incompetence a lot more of than they do out of malice. If they were consciously trying to harm you, believe it or not, they’d probably have done less damage. I’m not saying that because it take the sting out of it. Rather, that you can’t get back at someone who already lost—who can’t get things right even when they try. These people, you must ignore.

But as for the rest of our lives, there is one unescapable political fact: People will fuck with your stuff. They will treat you bad. Mess things up. Try to disrespect you or keep you out. What happens? You get pissed and you feel like murdering them. You sit there and stew and rage and rant. You’re only tipping the scales further out of your favor.

As I tried to explain to myself a few years ago in exactly one of these moments, this is no reason to grind your teeth. Smile, they just gave you an opportunity. Not an excuse, but a justification.

Enjoy it. Learn from it. Remember, as Plutarch one titled an essay, How To Profit By One’s Enemies. In a world, where so much will go wrong and sadly, so many people will wrong you, you better know how to turn it something positive or at the very least, into a cathartic game. Or you will be one angry person.

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