Two sayings come to mind for this post. “Always remember to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” And, “We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interest.” The first I heard in a scene from the classic film, “The Godfather.” The other I heard from talk show host and political activist Tavis Smiley though he may have not originated it. These are some of the wisest statements ever and yet many of us sleep on its genius. I definitely have not fully subscribed in the past because when I think of enemies I think of the hurt they have caused me – the betrayal, the lies, etc. My first instinct when coming across the people who I know have hurt me intentionally – (though sometimes they even smile in my face) is to resist them at all cost. If I see he/she coming one way, I usually go the other. I avoided conversation and any type of small talk or contact with the individuals who I knew not to have my best interest at heart.
However, I am learning now that total isolation from our enemies can do more harm than good in the long run. My classroom has been within some of my own business dealings. One of my business ventures requires a lot of networking and since I am new to this particular business that means double for me. It’s been often said that it’s not about what you know – it’s who you know. Well that’s not completely true. In reality it’s who knows you! I can know the CEO of a company but in order for me to benefit from his/her favor or influence depends on if he/she knows who I am when my name is mentioned. Fortunately, I have managed to gain quite a few notable contacts within this field that now know and respect my name. And slowly I am building up credentials that will give me business for several years to come should everything continue on course. But as in any venture I also have my share of detractors and haters. (Thank you Rich House for reminding me to embrace my haters!) One such hater is actually a person I have known for over 10 years. He has been in the field for over 20 years and I looked to him for guidance, advice and connections. Admittedly this person started off helping me quite a bit. But then I noticed a turn in his attitude after he began to notice that I started to take off and create a network for myself which increased my opportunities within the field. He noticed me at different places and wondered aloud to me, “How did you get turned on to this? Who did you speak with? That person didn’t call me. How much business did you acquire? Etc.” I could tell in his tone that he was envious at my progress – and I have very strong evidence that he made efforts to take some business away from me that I obtained through a mutual contact. From the beginning these revelations hurt quite a bit. And I felt that a person of his stature should be happy for me – especially because he knew of my career situation and the fact that I was struggling to make ends meet. Initially I though to avoid this person – or even give him a piece of my mind. Instead, I kept my approach professional and gave him the appearance of respect. In the meantime when he ask I don’t give him accurate accounts of my progress – and since he still has the power to give me business occasionally, I give him the impression of gratefulness on my behalf. For every time I get even an ounce of business from him, I have the opportunity to profit initially and show my skills and abilities to other potential clients. Its not as if I am not thankful in reality. It’s that I understand the games being played when ego and greed are involved. Often to get what we want we may have to stroke or placate someone’s ego a bit for desired results.
This lesson came up again as I was reading, “An Ordinary Man,” written by who was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Rwanda as portrayed by in the movie, “.” He spoke of doing business with many of the people he did not consider to be friends – some of whom were out to kill him and the over 1200 refugees he protected in the hotel during the genocide in 1994. General Augustin Bizimungu was a major player in the vicious murders of 800,000 Rwandans. He was charged with war crimes and is in a Tanzanian prison. In the midst of the unrest and extreme violence, Paul maintained a friendship with him that was started mostly by Paul’s services rendered to the general and people of power like him at the hotel. But it was with a purpose. Paul explains it himself in his book, “An Ordinary Man.”
I have been criticized for my friendship with him during the genocide, but I have never apologized for it. “How could you have stayed close to such a vile man?” I am asked, and my answer is this: I do not excuse whatever he may have done to promote the genocide, but I never heard him agree with any of the bloodshed when he was in my presence. I had to stay close to him because he could help me save lives. I would have stayed close to anyone who could help me do that.
He then went further to illustrate yet another important point. In describing the general in more depth:
… There is a saying in Rwanda: “Every man has a secret corner in his mind that nobody will ever know.” And I do not think I know enough about Bizimungu’s secret corner to judge him. He may have done terrible things in Rwanda before and during the genocide, but I know that he stepped in for me at crucial moments to save lives of innocent people when it was of no conceivable benifit to him. If I had ended that friendship, I do not think I would be here to write these words today. There are at least 1,268 people who survived the killing partly because of the instructions of Bizimungu. In my book that counts for something. (P. 162-163)
While I am disapointed in this particular person, I am not going to write off his value and humanity. He is still a child of God in my eyes and each day he lives, like myself he has opportunity for regeneration and growth. If he wants to hurt me for apparently no reason, then there is something inside himself that is lacking. But I digress. The main point is that there is no shame to the one to doing business with people who think less of your value. It is in no way selling out as long inward dignity is preserved. As the bible says, in life we have to be as wise as serpents and yet gentle as doves. Many black men for instance had to subject their egos at the door of humility when operating within Jim Crow segregation. They were called boy, and at other times much worse. While some men felt inferior I’m sure, still many more understood other people’s ignorance could not define them. And having the ability to earn a living for family is honorable above all. As I like to say, this is an inward issue. Its one thing to cower from within and an even worse practice to betray one’s principles for a dollar; I know many such men who appear to be well off and yet inwardly they are slaves to their position, status and income. But I submit as well that a man can pick his battles, act strategically, get his money and keep his dignity. In this case, I am such the man.
Perhaps one day I may let this person know that I have known for some time that he has not had my best interest at heart. But for the foreseeable future – I can allow his ego to flounder while it falsely confirms itself as superior in my own financial interest.
Pictured is Paul Rusesabagina with me and my son Christian during a book signing visit in St. Louis