The Power of Kindness

Real clout comes from being empathetic, cooperative, and communicative

| May-June 2008

“It is much safer to be feared than loved,” writes Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, a classic 16th-century treatise advocating manipulation and occasional cruelty as the best means to power. Nearly 500 years later, Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, the best-selling bedside reading of foreign policy analysts and hip-hop stars alike, would have made Machiavelli’s chest swell with pride.

Here are a few of the laws:

Law 12, Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim.
Law 15, Crush Your Enemy Totally.
Law 18, Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability.

You get the picture.

Guided by centuries of advice like Machiavelli’s and Greene’s, we tend to believe that attaining power requires force, deception, manipulation, and coercion. We might even assume that society demands this kind of conduct to run smoothly.

These seductive notions are wrong. A new science of power has revealed that power is wielded most effectively when it’s used by people who are attuned to and engaged with the needs and interests of others. When it comes to power, social intelligence—reconciling conflicts, negotiating, smoothing over group tensions—prevails over social Darwinism.

9/17/2013 10:53:09 AM

During adolescence the human brain is intensely focused on building the type of social skills we want our peers to have. Students at Arthur Morgan School, a boarding middle school for 7th, 8th, and 9th grades learn these skills by living with their peers and their teachers. The 27 students and 18 staff form a close knit community while living on 130 acres of forest and a working farm. Students care for the livestock, do all the chores and maintenance of the campus. The school goes on 3 day, 6 day, and 8 day wilderness trips as well as an 18 day field trip. After 50 years the schools entire year is designed to maximize the growth of the middle schooler through the celebration of adolescence.

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