Tuesday, May 22, 2007


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Dear Friends:

The ultimate powers that can be wielded by an individual can be distilled down to only two: the power to create and the power to destroy.

In the legendary underworld of the Colombian drug cartels, the proverbial "offer that you cannot refuse" is stated plainly... plata o plomo...literally "silver or lead." Either be paid well to do something, or be shot for failing to comply. The stark difference between the outcomes, depending upon the choice made by the sweating offerree, makes the significance and urgency of the offer more graphically clear.

Many times it means the choice between doing something morally reprehensible and being well paid for your demoralizing compromise of ethics held dear, or receiving a bullet in the brain. A critical factor in making this motivating choice effective is the offeree's perception of the offeror's ability and willingness to absolutely carry through on the implicit threat. At best, this is slightly better than a Hobson's choice; at worst, it has propelled more than a few ardent moralists to suicide. But then, most offerees do not have either the moral conviction or the steely courage required to terminate their lives (as miserable as they may be) in the interest of moral integrity.

Without moralizing, and viewing these two opposite powers simply as tools for persuasion and accomplishment, it is optimal to have both in the Commander's arsenal. If given a choice of only one power, most people, thinking the worst of themselves and of the entire species, would prefer to have the power to destroy. This is not a sad commentary on human nature, so much as a choice influenced by simple, rational and economic thought. IT IS CHEAPER, FASTER AND EASIER TO WIELD A WRECKING BALL THAN IT IS TO DESIGN AND CONSTRUCT A BUILDING. Also, it requires far less in the way of talent or training.

Generalizing further, it is much easier to be a prosecutor or a critic than an entrepreneur or an artist. It is far more challenging to revive a dying person than it is to simply destroy a living one. The power to destroy invariably trumps the power to create, and the threat of destruction is always more potent as an inducement to behavior than the promise or possibility of creation.

Every bully on the beach knows that it is much easier to step on someone's sand castle than it is to spend hours in the hot sun building one. And bouncers at bars are not generally 5' 7" martial arts experts (think of the movie "ROAD HOUSE," starring Patrick Swayze) who may have to actually prove themselves in a rough-and-tumble fight -- they are usually big, surly-looking fellows who pose a sufficient perceptual manace that they will probably not be tested by some inebriated patron with a need to assert himself.

As long as the default setting on most human beings is cowardice, a threat will always be a more potent motivator than an opportunity.

If you don't believe this, just observe government and international politics. Many negotiations are actually thinly-veiled threats of destruction or terrorism.

Bear this in mind when assessing your options in any negotiation, and in sizing up any potential adversary.


Douglas Castle

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