The Anti-Machiavellian Approach to Art, Work and Life

We need not adhere to a Machiavellian approach to art, work and life. It doesn’t matter if others employ such techniques in order to get by, to utilize and use others for their own personal gain. Forget about them. What about you?

One may have heard of the adjective Machiavellian, used in the sense of devious cunning for the gain of self by manipulating others. This word derives from Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian philosopher and writer in Florence during the Renaissance. Machiavelli also made famous his quote, “The end justifies the means.” You may have heard this term used as such:

  • “Geez, he has such a Machiavellian way of working the boss.”
  • “Why must you be so Machiavellian? What about others and what’s best for them?”
  • “I’ve used my Machiavellian ways to get my foot into the door. That’s what works for me. If others are doing it to gain an edge, why not me?”

What I have noticed in my 26 years of life is this:

Many folks will lie, cheat, steal, deceive, and manipulate others for their own personal gain. This applies to relationships with others, business or personal, and how we shape our lives around fundamental beliefs that “others are out to get me,” and life is based on “survival of the fittest.” If they win, that means I must lose. Therefore, I need to win, no matter if they lose.

But life isn’t about winning or losing, as one may be led to believe all their lives. Life is not a game to be played in your favor. And “fittest” does not necessarily mean one has got to do whatever it takes to succeed, to survive, to come out on top, to win, to be the first in line, to be the most popular, to have the most money, the most followers on Twitter, the most subscribers, the most Facebook friends, the most powerful-sounding and authoritative title, a New York Times best-selling book and the standard measures of success continues on.

What I mean to say is, we need not adhere to a Machiavellian approach to our art, work and life. It doesn’t matter if others employ such techniques in order to get by, to utilize and use others for their own personal gain. Forget about them. What about you?

What I am suggesting is the anti-Machiavellian approach to art, work and life.

This is the approach, I believe, that will last far beyond the last days of our lives. This is the inherent truth. This is the honest to goodness authenticity we, as human beings, crave from one another and from the world at large. This is the belief that good deeds will be recognized, if not in this world, then after we have come to pass from a higher being (if you believe in a God or higher deity). This is how we are meant to live out our lives.

In our final days of our lives, will we want to be surrounded by our enemies and those whom we have stepped on and deceived in order to get ahead in society and in life? Those that surround us will be the ones we want so badly to love, have respect for, admire and trust. If that is how we want to spend our last moments of our lives, that is how we should live every moment of our lives – now.

Only you can decide for yourself if what you are doing is ethical and honest.

Ask a cheating husband if the intimate after-work drinks he shares with his female colleague is considered cheating and he may be abhorred and offended and say, “Of course not! I would never do such a thing. Who do you think I am?” Then what about his actions? Intimate discussions, a pouring out of emotions to another woman that is not his wife, would be considered cheating by some. To others, cheating only means if that involves actual sexual intercourse.

Ask a stressed out student working on a lengthy research paper on the bio-mechanics of visual art. She has an opportunity to work closely with the teaching assistant, a young Ph.D. student, and flirts ever so casually with him, brushing her arm across his, teasing him with the way she gazes into his eyes. To some, this is unethical behavior, for the T.A. may be prone to seeing this student in a halo effect, in that because she was so nice to him, he should return the favor by going easy on his grading of her paper. To others, this is perfectly normal behavior, if not expected. After all, how else does one advance in school and life?


To all this and many more examples, I adamantly say no. No to the acceptance that we are going to just stick with what we’ve always known to work well in life. For who will examine the consequences of the decisions you make if not for you, yourself?

No one will care as much about you as much as you. You. Not your partner, not your mother/father, not your sister/brother, not your child, not your best friend.

We are, in human nature, fundamentally selfish creatures. It takes hard work and self-control in order to learn how to share with others. For some, they may never get it and think that to serve themselves through and through is the only way to get by in this world. But for me, after attending to our personal needs and happiness, I believe we must give to others wholeheartedly and give back to the universe what it has so abundantly given us.

This means living an anti-Machiavellian life, whereby others need not suffer in order for us to gain.

In fact, it is the opposite.

Together, we can do great things. Together, we can change lives. We can end wars. We can shape our thinking and lifestyle so that we maximize our ultimate potential as human beings. We can shift our selfish and manipulative ways to that of selflessness, a humble and gracious approach to art, work and life.

We can. I believe in it. I hope you do too.