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Personal Sacrifice - Machiavelli described the “sacred trust” as something that a man would be willing to sacrifice his own self interest for. Sacrifice means putting the interest of something or someone before your own.

The Machiavellian Inconsistency Principle - Consistency in your beliefs or personal behavior is not important. Why not? Read below.

Sacrifice

Our shared Christian heritage has woven the idea of sacrifice into the tapestry of our souls. If you were born into western culture (Europe, the Americas, and Australia), then this is true of you too whether you are a church-goer or not. After Constantine, the Christian Emperor of Romethe Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire 1700 years ago, the Roman Church gradually became the holder and transmitter of all wisdom and all literacy. Very few people outside of the Church and the royal courts could read. The only wisdom that the average person was exposed to came from the local priest, who competed only with folklore. Writings and ideas that contradicted or questioned Christian teaching were rigidly suppressed. Both the authors of alternate theologies and their books were burned and forgotten. Christianity made itself into the one and only choice. It is our only inheritance from the distant past.

All of western thought is saturated with the idea that the sacrifices of the God-man Jesus for humankind was history’s most powerful gesture of profound goodness. His biggest sacrifice for us, as taught by the Church, was to accept the mystical transference of all our sinful guilt to Himself. His endurance of a horrible death penalty was a symbolic punishment for our - not His - sins. The Bible and the Church were assembled at Constantine’s order. They taught that Jesus made many sacrifices during his life: healing illnesses without compensation, helping the poor with no expectation of reward, astounding witnesses with miracles, living a life of self-imposed poverty, selflessly doing good deeds, and teaching His wisdom to all who asked for it. He only asked that we love one another as He loved us. He commanded us to be kind and supportive of each other, giving to the poor, nursing the sick, and living a life of peace while awaiting the end of time and the beginning of immortality.

 

The concept of self-sacrifice and martyrs are central to Christianity. Often found in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity is the idea of joining one's own sufferings to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Thus one can ‘offer up’ involuntary suffering such as illness, or purposefully embrace suffering in acts of penance such as fasting. Some Protestants criticize this as a denial of the all-sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice, but it finds support in St. Paul: ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.’” - Wikipedia article.The Imitation of Christ: This was Ms Santos' Fifteenth Crucifixion

Imitate Christ, we were told, and be good like Him. In the great classic of Christian meditation, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas Kempis wrote, “It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory. When to all outward appearances men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God Who sees our hearts.”

Our reward for compliance to these instructions, according to Christian teaching, is personal immortality accompanied by endless happiness - no small thing. The flip side of His message was that indifference to or defiance of His teaching would result in a horrible kind or immortality; one in which we would suffer the most acute possible pain endlessly - also no small thing.

To imitate Jesus’ example, we were required to sacrifice too. To be like Jesus, we had to be meek rather than aggressive, humble rather than arrogant, kind rather than brutal, loving rather than indifferent, and long-suffering rather than complaining - as He was. We had to put the needs of others above our own needs. We had to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the Church, the community, the state, and our own souls. And, we were constantly reminded, God was watching the progress of our lives and taking detailed notes, which are stored in our permanent records for scrutiny on Judgment Day. God even heard our thoughts, as if we were speaking them out loud, whether our silent prayers or our thoughts about college cheerleaders. This put considerable pressure on us to internalize the values that Jesus exhibited in the Gospels, so as to purify our spirits and so as to protect ourselves from God’s disapproval. Christians struggled mightily to tame the beast within each of their souls, knowing that God observed every act and heard every thought. The suffering that often accompanied a sacrifice became a kind of goodness. It was a painful but useful purification of the spirit, cleansing it of the impurities of sin like a painful medical treatment that restores health. There were occasions long ago, when Christians were fed to the lions, that Christians in the audience would voluntarily jump from the seating area into the arena, but they did not try to rescue their brothers and sisters in the spirit as we would expect. Instead, they were eager to suffer an agonizing death alongside their brothers and sisters, eager to be counted among the martyrs and saints (like some modern day Muslims), and eager to reach Heaven sooner. A few modern Christians - admittedly unusual ones - have themselves nailed to a cross on Good Friday or crawl many miles to a religious shrine. Catholic priests still assign little punishments for the faithful to endure, like chanting a particular prayer a certain number of times, to compensate God for the offense of continued sinfulness. Sacrifice and suffering became a kind of payment to God in the only coin he accepted: obedience, devotion, and suffering.

St. Ignatius of AntiochSaint Ignatius, wrote from his prison, “May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me [in this]: I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. And let no one, of things visible or invisible, envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.” His prayer was answered.

 

You will have to plumb your own mind to discover how much you confuse sacrifice with goodness. My advice to you is to be very thoughtful about who and what you will sacrifice yourself for. Our political leaders praise our soldiers in Iraq for their sacrifices, but we notice that their own children are not on the battlefields. Our corporate leaders praise our sacrifices when we work long late hours, neglecting our families to keep our noses to the grindstone, but they do not sacrifice anything themselves. In fact, they reward themselves with paychecks hundreds of times larger than our own. The leaders of our churches ride in stretch limos to the revival, where they ask us to sacrifice our money and time to the benefit of their TV programs, their wardrobes, and their mansions. Con artists have learned to carry a Bible.

In short, our leaders have learned to take advantage of our sacrificial inner conditioning. They articulate their demands as a call to sacrifice, and we respond as we have been programmed to respond. Sacrifice is good in our minds; selfishness is bad. To refuse to sacrifice is to refuse to be a good person. We believe that we should think of others, not ourselves. Our leaders, who think of themselves rather than others, take note of this weakness in our characters and exploit it.

 

If you choose to sacrifice your own interests for something or someone dear to you, then do so because you feel a need to do it. Sacrifice is a choice, not a virtue. Do not be shamed or cornered into making a sacrifice that is not one that you choose but one that is chosen for you - usually by someone who will personally benefit by your sacrifice, who is exploiting you, or who conning you.

***

National Episcopal Cathedral, Washington DCThat said, we must acknowledge the many wonderful actions of the many Christian churches and individual Christians. Their sacrifices were not pointless or meaningless, in my opinion. They have fed the poor, nursed the sick, taught the young, counseled the despondent, sheltered the homeless, clothed the poor, protected the weak, adopted the orphan, housed travelers, and held the hand of the dying for twenty long centuries.

 

They built cathedrals, universities, libraries, orphanages, kitchens, hospitals, monasteries, and homes for single pregnant girls. They composed hymns, wrote books of profound philosophy, sang in choirs, dusted pews, mopped cathedral floors, cooked for church picnics, commissioned our greatest works of art, defied Communist dictators, ironed the priest’s clothes, and marched for peace.

 

Every day, for more than seven hundred thousand days, one Christian has given Holy Communion to the other, beginning with the day Jesus broke bread and shared it among his disciples - an unbroken chain of twenty-five generations. Magnificent Christian cathedrals whose construction was begun by a great-grandfather were finished by his great-grandson.

***

 

That said, we must also acknowledge that Christianity’s leadership has often been brutal and corrupt. Christian leaders persecuted and slaughtered believers of other religions, launched their many Crusades, burned heretics at the stake, imprisoned those who disagreed with them, fleeced their congregations, embezzled Church funds, molested altar boys, and lived like kings while never noticing their own hypocrisy - as a Machiavellian would expect from any group of human apes. The best Christians have always been in the pews, not in the pulpit or on the throne. Positions of status and power - even religious ones - attract both weak and strong personalities.

 

Leo X was pope when Machiavelli wrote The Prince. “When he became Pope, Leo X is reported to have said to his brother Giuliano: ‘Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.’ The Venetian ambassador who related this of him was not unbiased, nor was he in Rome at the time, nevertheless the phrase illustrates fairly the Pope's pleasure-loving nature and the lack of seriousness that characterized him. And enjoy he did, traveling around Rome at the head of a lavish parade featuring panthers, jesters, and Hanno, a white elephant.” It was this Pope that Martin Luther defied, beginning the Protestant Reformation and the separation of Christians into hundreds of sects.

 

Consistency

 

The chameleon is able to change its skin color to match its surroundings. The Prince also changes his nature to adapt to his surroundings.Consistency of thought and behavior is much overrated. The common wisdom tells us that people with strong characters invariably exhibit certain highly desirable behaviors. The person with strong character is a bundle of virtues; always strong, brave, intelligent, reverent, ethical, determined, thoughtful, etc., etc. This one size fits all “strong character” personality is actually very dysfunctional. Practically speaking, it is the situation in which the Prince finds himself that dictates the kind of personal qualities the Prince chooses to display, not an all-purpose personality.

Machiavelli, when describing the successful Prince, argued that the Prince should always select the behavior that fits the situation. He should not be afraid to fight - and not be afraid to run from a fight either. He should be kind and nurturing when it gets him what he wants. He can also be cruel when that is required by the situation. He outsmarts dumber opponents and outfights weaker ones. He is able to kiss butt in one situation, confront in another, and defy in yet another. He can display great integrity when integrity is needed, and he can cut corners when cutting corners gets him what he wants. He can display contrition or indifference in the face of criticism.

Machiavelli recommended that the Prince imitate the strength and ferocity of the lion when confronted with a weaker or smarter opponent, but that he imitate the cunning of the fox when confronted with a stronger or less gifted one. The Prince is a chameleon of behavior, adapting to the situation adroitly and with flexibility. Machiavelli assumed that the Prince would be able to develop this psychological agility through the toughening and strengthening effects of his warrior training. Though the military recruiting offices are open and eager to receive us, few of us will choose the military as a way of building character. We must find another way to develop psychological and personal flexibility.

The ability to change your behavior means the ability to change your thoughts and feelings to support the new behavior. One must be in one mood to grade exams and another to testify at one’s own trial. Within a narrow range, we all do this, adopting the mood that is necessary to get the job done. The Machiavellian should strive to stretch that range of behaviors. If you are shy, you need to learn to be assertive. If you are assertive, you need to learn to keep your mouth shut and refrain from acting. If you are easily humiliated, you need to learn different methods of responding to and dealing with situations that now humiliate you. If your temper compels you to do and say things that you later regret, learn to contain yourself. Quiet firmness or simply walking away are often preferable to a tantrum.

You must constantly add new moods and behaviors to your personal repertoire. This is the golden rule of education: the best way to learn is to do. Practice the behaviors you want to add. If you are intimidated by angry exchanges, then get into a few practice arguments and work on your skills. Surely some waitress will be slow or some pizza delivery clerk will bring you cold pizza and you can practice on them. (After the waitress perks up her performance or the pizza boy brings you a new, hot pizza, be decent enough to leave a very generous tip.) Remember, your goal is not to learn to become angrier. That would be like learning to crap in your pants again. Humans are not as easy to train as dogs are, but they can do more for you.Your goal is to produce in the other person the behavior you desire. Remember that the other party in your little practice argument is just a primate. He can be trained just like any other animal. Your goal in any practice interaction is to train the other people you are practicing on. Do not see their angry rejoinders as anything more than a dog growling at you during a dog obedience class. You can train that dog or that person not to growl at you. You can train that dog or that person to jump through your hoops - even flaming hoops. Apply this logic to any other situation that involves human interaction. Practice on people you don’t know in different parts of town than those you usually frequent. The anonymity of a big city should present you with plenty of low-risk opportunities to practice new behaviors and learn the moods which support them.

If you are one of those women who feel that their appearance must be perfect at all times and are very disabled by any negative comment about your appearance, then spend some time at a mall full of expensive stores. Just be sure to wear cheap, tacky clothing. Spend some time walking around and checking out how you feel. While you may imagine that people are thinking negative things about your appearance and giving you disapproving glances, it is much more likely that they barely notice at you.

If you are easily browbeaten into doing things you don’t want to, it will be harder for you to find a rehearsal situation in public. A little psychodrama with a close friend might be useful to you. Explain to your friend how the browbeater (boss, parent, relative, friend) always bullies you into doing things his way. Then, with your friend playing the bully, rehearse ways to defend yourself. Remember, your goal is not to escalate the argument by out-shouting your opponent or displaying more rage than he does. That is his specialty, and he will give you a spirited contest. Your goal is to learn not to become disabled (by fear, rage, frustration, etc.) by your opponents tactics. Then, once you are in control of your own feelings, start developing strategies to train your opponent. Bullies have a very limited repertoire of behavior. Usually, bullying is their only tactic. Figure out a way to circumvent or disable their tactics. Calmness is very disabling to angry people. Indifference to their anger is often very disabling to angry people. Or, change the subject of their conversation to your opponent’s anger. Suggest that the conversation be resumed when your opponent “regains control” of himself.

There is no set of universal rules regarding human interaction. Your goal is to build a large repertoire of behaviors and to build the mental and emotional skills that will enable you to use them skillfully. The chameleon changes his color to match his surroundings. Be a chameleon. Add the skills of the chameleon to the skills of the fox and the lioness.

 

Chapter 11

 

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Download or read online: Machiavelli’s Prince in English translation by W. K. Rowling

 

Read a brief summary of Machiavelli’s life and works,

written by W. K. Rowling as the Introduction to his translation of The Prince

 

A readable summary of Machiavelli’s Prince can be found at

http://www.princeton.edu/~ferguson/adw/prince.shtml

 

 

 

 

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Better Living Through Machiavellianism

 

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