In 191 BC, Antiochus III, King of Syria invaded Greece, invited there by the Aetolians in order to drive out the Romans. Antiochus sent envoys to the Achaeans, who were allies of the Romans, to advise them to remain neutral. On the other hand, the Romans urged them to take up arms on their behalf. This matter was discussed at a meeting of the Achaeans at which the envoy of Antiochus exhorted them to remain neutral.
To this the Roman envoy replied: “As for what they tell you, that it is better for you not to intervene in the war, nothing could be further from your interests; lacking help and dignity, you would be the prize of the victor).
“In order to avoid present dangers, irresolute rulers usually prefer to remain neutral, and very often this is their undoing,” notes Niccolo Machiavelli in his political intrigue masterpiece, The Prince.
Machiavelli proceeds to add: “Let us assume that you strongly support one of the parties, who then emerges victorious; even if he is powerful and you are at his mercy, he is beholden to you and friendship is established between you. And men are never so dishonourable that they would attack you in such circumstances, and display so much ingratitude.
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Moreover, victories are never so decisive that the victor does not need to be careful, and especially about acting justly. But if the ruler whom you help loses, he will show gratitude to you and will help you as far as he can; thus you become an ally in a cause that may flourish again.”
Machiavelli observes further that it is not always possible to follow safe politics. Rather, it should be realised that all courses of action involve risks: for it is in the nature of things that when one tries to avoid one danger another is always encountered. But prudence consists in knowing how to assess the dangers, and to choose the least bad course of action as being the right one to follow.
Robert Green, in his 48 Laws of Power, describes timidity as “dangerous”, and celebrates boldness by declaring that any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected by more audacity.
Green says most of us are timid. We want to avoid tension and conflict and we want to be liked by all. We may contemplate a bold action but we rarely bring it to life. We are terrified of the consequences, of what others might think of us, of the hostility we will stir up if we dare go beyond our usual place. Green adds that few are born bold.
Even Napoleon Bonaparte had to cultivate the habit on the battlefield, where he knew it was a matter of life and death. In social settings he was awkward and timid, but he overcame this and practiced boldness in every aspect of his life because he saw its tremendous power, how it could literally enlarge a man. You must practice and develop your boldness. You will often find uses for it.
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“Boldness and hesitation elicit very different psychological responses in their targets. Hesitation puts objects in your path, boldness eliminates them. Once you understand this, you will find it essential to overcome natural timidity and practice the art of audacity, Green notes.
And Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658) advices: “Always set to work without misgivings on the score of impudence. Fear of failure in the mind of a performer is, for an onlooker, already evidence of failure...actions are dangerous when there is doubt as to their wisdom; it would be safer to do nothing.”
We are living in times when we cannot afford to play neutral or timid. Kenya is faces daunting challenges that demand a bold stand of every man and woman.
The serpent of corruption appears to be getting more and more invigorated, having quickly spread its tentacles beyond Nairobi to all 47 county governments where it appears to be establishing rather comfortable domicile.
There is every sign of a chronic paucity of leadership, with pretense, hypocrisy, double-speak, insincerity, myopia, mediocrity and greed pervading virtually all political space.
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And the very soul of our constitutional order is under siege from all political angles as the prospect of reckless, selfish tinkering and mutilation looms ever so ominously.
Eighteenth Century British Statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke warned that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, while Martin Luther King observed that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
The time is always right to do what is right, and to remain silent when you must speak out makes you the King of cowards! Will you rise and walk on the right side of history for Kenya?