Written by Sonia Raju.

Photo Credit: Penguin.co.uk

(The following article reflects the writer’s own personal experiences and opinions.)

“Half of the world is laughing at the other half, and all are fools.

This is the perfect little book on how to navigate negative people… if you’re paying attention.

“How to Use Your Enemies” by Baltasar Gracián is part of the Little Black Classics: 80 books for Penguin’s 80th birthday and even though its short, it packs a punch. It touches on how to gain more knowledge, persuasion and manners, as well as enjoyment, respect and affection.

Taken from a selection of maxims written by Gracián in 1647.

Having never heard of this guy, maybe only briefly in my A-Level Philosophy lessons, I was sceptical to purchase the book. For £1, I thought ‘why not?’. It was either going to be written in a barely understandable philosophical way or literally a list on how to treat your enemies.

Spoiler alert, its neither.

From my first read, I couldn’t help but think that this book was plainly common sense and not for those who take things too literally. “Choose your friends” and “know how to use your friends” are two quotes that are both common sense and slightly cut-throat. The point I think this book tries to make is that every piece of advice given is surface level and that you shouldn’t take them at face value. Instead understanding the roots of the advice can harvest a better outcome for both you and those around you.

Now I’m not saying I agree with everything printed in this book, there are a few valuable and important lessons that can be noted. The truth is, these quotes sound straightforward however, it’s the harsh reality of life. Delving deeper between the lines, I needed this for some much-needed introspection.

I had highlighted the whole book from back to front, completely awestricken. I knew that I was going to find some nice quotes that would help me in life but I didn’t realise that the entire book would be enlightening.

Much of the advice given follows along to the last piece written in the small book. But the predominate point that Gracián is trying to make is knowing yourself inside and out, the good and the bad. That’s what can help elevate yourself to the next level of your life and how to have long-lasting fulfilling relationships with yourself, friends and enemies likewise.

One quote that really resonated was a lesson that I learned very recently.

“Know how to refuse.”

It sounds painfully simple, but trust me, it’s not. In this paragraph, the author speaks about how ‘no’ can be thrown out quickly with not much thought and the aftermath of this becoming bitter almost immediately due to your swift reply.

When we immediately know that what is being offered to us is not what we want, every so often we respond with a swift brashness. The person on the receiving end of this ‘no’ sometimes isn’t deserving of a ‘yes’, sometimes it’s not something that you want, sometimes it is but we can be quick to shut things down. The sourness of receiving that ‘no’, even if it’s something that we are positively sure that we don’t want in a life, allows for the perception of who we are to be tainted.

Gracián says “many are always ready to say ‘no’, turning everything sour … Always let there be a few crumbs of hope to temper the bitterness of refusal”, and I couldn’t agree more. To succeed, you need to think about how you’re being perceived by others because most times, there is power in gradually letting someone down rather than shutting them down with such finality.

The idea is that self-reflection and knowing oneself enough to navigate other people will allow you to tread through life with power. For if you don’t know your own capabilities, morals and even failures, then how is it possible to navigate these with your friends and, like the title suggests, “how to use your enemies”.

Considering the century that Gracián wrote this in, it’s shocking how this didn’t stop “How to Use Your Enemies” from resonating deeply with me. The truthfulness and uncomplicated wisdom can be used by everyone and anyone. Truly understanding the depths of people can allow you to be respected and loved by everyone around you, no matter how close these people are to you. He suggests that this gives you the ultimate ability to lead others where you want them to go.

It’s a great buy for some early morning or late-night thinking. There are so many aspects and suggestions of this tiny book that I could dig into, however I will leave that up to you.

I could write a whole book myself on all the greater meanings behind each phrase but what I will say is, if the other 79 books for Penguin’s 80 Little Black Classics are as insightful as this one, then I’m buying them all!