The funny thing about egotistical people is that—despite any power or wealth they might have—they are really easy to manipulate. All you have to do is tell them what they want to hear; make everything seem like it was their idea; play to their vanity and their delusions. The same goes for liars—who are usually quite easy to lie to. There’s even an old saying: You can’t con an honest man. Liars and cheats are always looking for shortcuts and tricks, no matter how implausible or unbelievable they are. And the paranoid? As Seneca wrote, empty fears create real things to be afraid of. The paranoid leader often, unintentionally, encourages the enemies that end up taking them down.
All of which is to say that ego and deceit and paranoia are objectively bad strategies. They make you miserable...and they actually imperil the success that people think they help enable. We must steer clear of them like a ship must avoid a rocky shore. If we don’t, we will be dragged in by the current and torn to pieces on the rocks.
Look at Seneca’s experiences with Nero. Here was a man driven insane by his own ego and dishonesty and paranoia. He was emperor...but not for long. Centuries later, his name stands as a permanent indictment of how power corrupts (certainly he was an example, for someone like Marcus, of how not to be). Look at Donald Trump today. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with his policies or not—it’s hard to argue that these personality traits have served him well. He’s surrounded by a “team of vipers” who are constantly undermining him and stabbing each other in the back. His fears (and cries) of a “witch hunt” have only caused more investigations. His ego allowed him to be manipulated by partisans with extreme agendas that have little appeal to the vast majority of voters. How long it will go on, we cannot say, but it’s clear every second it continues is less and less fun for him.
And so it will be for you, too, if you indulge in these dangerous traits. We must sweep ego away. We must cultivate a habit of honesty and fairness in our speech and our habits. We must cooperate with others rather than protect our interests with paranoid possessiveness.
In short, we must be good people. It’s the best strategy. It’s the only way to live and lead.