Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades is rich in anecdote. One such anecdote (Alcidiades 9) relates how the great statesman, who lived from 450 to 404 B.C., used a minor transgression to his advantage.
He was said to have owned a large and attractive dog, which cost him a significant sum of money. Alcibiades then proceeded to have the dog’s tail cut off. His friends and acquaintances were angered and dismayed by this action; one trusted advisor told him that the general public were also grumbling about what he had done.
Alcibiades was not concerned. “That is exactly what I wanted,” he told his advisor sternly. “For if all of Athens is complaining about this, then it will stop them from saying anything worse about me.”
By this he meant that people often permit themselves to become fixated on relatively minor things, and miss the larger issues in their distraction. Canny leaders and wise men are aware of this, and are always careful to lay out carefully-placed lightning rods, which channel and absorb the grumblings of the people. Anger must be managed with the same care as good feelings.
Just as we attempt to have some measure of control over the good things that people may say about us, so we should not neglect to attempt to control some of the malicious things that are said about us. It is also proven by experience that most people, conscious of their own foibles, feel more comfortable knowing that a person may have a minor misdeed in his history.
A small amount of vice humanizes, but a large amount destroys. Those who are too free from vice attract not admiration, but contempt.
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