The Possible Enemy

The possible enemy can be a wonderful motivator.

We’ve all been disliked on occasion, gossiped about, sabotaged, targeted. What if, someday, a person took a real dislike to me? What if that person decided to take me down a peg, to get me out of the way? Or if not me then perhaps someone I care about?

It’s not impossible. And that possibility can inspire us to strive to be better than we would otherwise be. I don’t know why it’s so powerful, but something about the way we’re wired makes this a worthwhile thing to dwell on.

I often think of Socrates urging Alcibiades that if he wants to be a good politician, he must aim to be superior not only to his peers but to the very best Athenian politicians of his day, of any day, better than the best politicians in all the Greek speaking world, better even than the pharaoh in Egypt and the great king in Persia.

I find something inspiring in trying to compete against people who will probably never even know I exist, knowing that someday they could know me and that I’d love to surprise them with what I am able to do.

I think that deep down, this is at least a big part of why I began to care about philosophy and politics and economics, and health and fitness, and so many of the other things I care about. I’m competing against people who don’t know me, just in case I might someday be in a competition of some sort with them or with someone like them.

As I’ve said, I’m aware that this doesn’t totally make sense, probably. But it’s true about how many people think, I suspect, and it really does push a person to be better.

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