IN The Godfather 2, mob boss Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) famously said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
The saying originates with the 15th century writer Machiavelli, whose treatise on leadership ‘The Prince’ has become the well thumbed companion of many a despot since it first hit the streets of Renaissance Italy.
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But how exactly do you know who your friends are?
(Enemies on the other hand are fairly easy to spot, especially when coming at you with the broken end of a cricket bat.)
Friends can smile at you and pat you on the back while smoothly slipping a sharp stiletto between your shoulder blades. Female friends can be especially treacherous, and I’m not talking about your good old best mate since school type of friend, rather the pretty girl who befriends you with undue haste the first day at Fresher’s Fair (Yes you know the type).
This is the ‘friend’ who insists that the yellow flares do not make you look like an over-inflated satin barrage balloon and then slips out of your party and into your boyfriend’s bed.
Now, an enemy would have been kept at arm’s length, but these So-Called Friends sneak in through the back door and take you unawares (Caesar’s cry of “E tu, Brute” should haunt us always).
So, with respect, Don Corleone I beg to differ (and if he was not a fictional character then beg would be the correct word) I believe that you need to keep your friends close and your enemies at a distance, if only to keep an eye on them. Anyway who wants to spend their time with someone they don’t like?
A true friend is one who will tell you the truth. My friend Anna, who, like George Washington, could never tell a lie, would have said with barely a backward glance, “Actually Suzanne you look like Homer Simpson after a doughnut binge”.
Anna was challenging, infuriating, loyal and generous. She had your back (and not in a stiletto kind of way) but if you were wrong she told you so.
Anna did not judge. Anna never wavered in her loyalty. It was her sister who stabbed her in the back, her sister who waltzed out of Anna’s life dragging her boyfriend with her.
Anna never forgave her (or him). She never recovered from that betrayal (a bit like Fredo and Michael Corleone, except Anna didn’t have her sister shot on a fishing trip…at least I don’t think she did…)
One needs look no further for cautionary examples of the damage caused by rivalry and betrayal than the nest of vipers that was the Plantagenet and Tudor families.
During the 1400s the bottom which sat on the throne of England changed so often that The Tower of London resembled a demented Cuckoo clock.
Edward IV never even bothered to unpack. Machiavelli’s advice to keep enemies close didn’t work for the three sons of York. Don Corleone could have saved himself a lot of heart ache if he’d opened his history book once in a while.
My advice is to keep your enemies at a safe distance and never turn your back on a friend. Or if you are a Plantagenet, “Before all else – be armed.” (Machiavelli)