Thursday, November 12, 2009
Niccolo and Me
Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Do you have what it takes to rule a Principality?
This is my dear old friend, Niccolo Machiavelli.
I can't remember the first time I read The Prince. I know it wasn't in college, because I took The Divine Comedy one semester and didn't sign up for The Prince during the following term. Maybe because I felt like I was missing something, I picked up a copy of The Prince and read it, somewhere along the line.
The term "Machiavellian" has come to mean something sinister and manipulative. Actually The Prince is pretty pragmatic. Common sense, if you happen to be running a biggish show. The book is just dense enough that you forget most of it if you don't read it once a year, so after two or three years it's like reading a whole new text.
No offense to Niccolo, but The Prince is also an effective sleep-enhancer. Put that puppy next to your bed and turn to it at night, and you will save a fortune on lavender and white noise machines.
I'm thinking about The Prince tonight because I have a student who is struggling with the whole concept of school. As is often the case with such students, this one is exceedingly bright -- if not terribly well educated. I just ordered a copy of The Prince for him.
Now you're saying, "Wait a minute, Anne. You're going to give a kid with a middle-school reading level a college-level text so full of big words it puts you to sleep?"
You see, it's not the substance of the gift, it's the suggestion. I would never tell the student this, but if you hand a teenager a book about how to rule, he or she might internalize the notion that ruling requires education and higher level thinking.
When I give the book to the student, I will tell him that the best thing to do with it is to put it by his bedside and read a page or two each night. I won't hide from him The Prince's magical, sleep-inducing qualities. But I will also hint that there's gold in them there pages. Gold that can be mined in little nuggets. The first of them being that an effective ruler has to exert self-control before trying to control other people.
We're having a bit of a blow here tonight. No better time to curl up with Niccolo Machiavelli. My lids are growing heavy just thinking about it.