“You Destroy Me, Or I’ll Destroy You”

How much would you pay for your top competitors’ playbook?

You can’t even imagine getting your hands on it.

But if you could, you’d counter their every strategy.

It is routine for service professionals to give this kind of counsel.

  • Lawyers prepare the opposing case. Behind closed doors, if they’re defense, they fight like dogs for the prosecution.
  • Doctors plot the likely course of the disease. They study the X-ray carefully, peer at the MRI, focusing on the invader’s killer path.
  • Military leaders probe with great depth the mind of the enemy. Study their weapons. Scope out the terrain.
  • Football coaches know the strengths of the other team and each and every one of its players.
  • Crisis communications advisers can spew forth in three seconds what the world likely thinks of their clients.

But not everyone is equally willing to listen. The arrogant ones, especially. “We (meaning ‘I’) don’t have time,” they say, “it’s unnecessary and negative.”

It isn’t about the time, or the money, or the attitude. It’s the fear of seeming imperfect, which leads them to falsely shout that they’re fine:

“We don’t waste time chasing others. Let’s focus on leading ourselves.”

I bring up this topic because of a line in this book I had the chance to read over vacation, “Satan: An Autobiography.”

It’s an unusually titled book with an incredibly readable style. And the plot is equally compelling: an as-told-to from the perspective of the common enemy of humankind. He is the ultimate adversary of our collective business, which is staying alive and healthy and productive.

He exists to tempt us – to bring us down.

What’s amazing about this book is that the narrator tells us exactly how he does it. It is so easy, he says – all he has to do is puff up our egos. Which, in the end, aren’t even who we really are. Instead the ego is a manifestation of him.

Our greatest fear, he notes, is that we will lose everything we have. We will lose our money and our homes, the people we love, our health, the respect of others…you name it, if you can fear it, it’s going to be taken.

This narrator, our enemy, literally reads to us from his own playbook. He says, you will lose all of these things. Unless you destroy me first. And then you will find peace, and I won’t have to literally destroy you.

If you don’t kill your ego, the devil says, I’m going to infiltrate your mind and mess you up real good. I’m gonna make you so stupid and greedy that you bring yourself down, and down hard, in the end.

* * *

Yesterday we had shiva on the occasion of my father-in-law’s passing. This is the Jewish ritual where people come to your home and comfort you for the loss.

My father-in-law was not a trifling man, he was a holy man and I do not say this word lightly. He was completely selfless, he didn’t know the meaning of the word ego, and in his life he gave and gave until he literally collapsed.

Shiva goes on for hours and you wind up talking about other things.

One of the topics was the recent scandal of the D.C. rabbi arrested for peeping on women in the ritual bath.

[Let me stop here and say that 2014 was a horrible year in terms of men I respected being accused of sexual assault, whether it was Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, or this rabbi. And 2015 is not looking much better.]

Someone silenced the room with this remark: “What on earth would motivate someone to be a peeping Tom? I mean, couldn’t you just go see a stripper?”

It was a valid question. A rabbi is the spiritual center of the community. Everybody respects him. Why would such a person destroy himself over something so incredibly stupid?

And someone else chimed in. “Someone who is incredibly arrogant. Who is always right, and nobody else.”

Sometimes I reflect on this rabbi, who I did not know personally but who was, truly, venerated here in D.C. He converted my friend, who spoke so highly of him. His synagogue is devastated, decimated, trying to go on after this nuclear bomb of a scandal. His wife got up and walked out.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” said the first one. “It’s something right out of a novel.”

It’s a painful novel, an unnecessary novel, a novel that never wanted to be written. Just like the one about billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who could have been remembered for helping poor young women instead of enslaving them.

* * *

My great-grandfather, Rabbi Dovid Garfinkel, was famous for his pessimistic saying: “Just don’t make the world worse.”

In my life I never understood how you could have this type of attitude. Why not tell people to make the world a better place?

Looking at the downfall of so many brilliant people carried away by their arrogance, I think I understand what he was saying.

You will be tempted to “save the world” out of ego, not out of true greatness. Know that in advance, and don’t think you’re so great. Understand this represents your destructive capacity, and focus mostly on restraining yourself.

If you do this, there is no limit to the true and infinite excellence you can achieve.


Photo credit: Adriel Hampton / Flickr. All opinions my own.

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