“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”: Meaning & Origin

Sometimes, you might have heard the phrase, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. It’s one of those phrases we hear all the time and most people who say it just want to make themselves seem wiser than they actually are.

Today, I want to explore where it comes from, whether or not it’s good advice, and how it can apply it to your life.

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” meaning

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” means that whilst having close friendships is essential, keeping on top of your enemies is even more critical as it enables you to defend yourself should they attack.

x
Watch the video: Only 1 percent of our visitors get these 3 grammar questions right...

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” origin

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is originally from one of the most famous books of all the “The Art of War”.

“The Art of War” was written by a man called Sun Zhu, arguably one of the most famous Eastern Philosophers of all time. His teachings have shaped many eastern religions and schools of thought.

When most of us think of early philosophers, we might think of Plato and Aristotle, but in Asia, they were just as concerned with thinking about how the world works and the nature of being. To this day, “The Art of War” is still one of the most respected philosophical books.

About “The Art of War”

To fully understand what “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, it will help us to get a general gist of what “The Art of War” is all about.

Unlike most other philosophical books, “The Art of War” was written as a book on warfare. It’s a guide on how to effectively win a war and defeat your enemy. Within the book, you will find advice on preparation for war, when to fight, and how to fight.

Just charging in somewhere and taking over is never an effective strategy. There is an art to waging war.

Non Warfare uses for “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”

I’m going to assume that most of you reading this have no intention of starting a war. Unless this blog is more popular with politicians than I thought?

However, even if you don’t ever pick up a weapon, the lesson in “The Art of War” can be applied to several aspects of our lives.

Within our social lives, there will always be people who we don’t like. If you run a business, there will be other businesses that will be competition for you. And, of course, within politics, you’re always trying to win against someone else.

Paraphrasing of “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”

Another philosopher who paraphrased Sun Zhu is “Niccolo Machavelli”. You probably know him best for being the man behind the adjective “Machiavellian”.

He once said, “It is easier for the prince to make friends of those men who were contented under the former government, and are therefore his enemies, than of those who, being discontented with it, were favourable to him and encouraged him to seize it.”

Machiavelli and Sun Zhu lived thousands of years apart, and it’s unlikely that the latter ever read the works of the former. But they say “great minds think alike”.

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” in The Godfather

One film that uses the phrase “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is The Godfather. One of the most famous films of all time.

The GodFather is all about the Mafia. As you can imagine, being in the Mafia is a dangerous lifestyle in which you will need to know what you’re doing just to be able to survive. The Mafia are constantly at “war” with someone, be it smaller gangs, businesses, or governments.

Understanding the rules of war is essential in that line of work. This would explain why one character says the famous line, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, within one scene.

Examples of “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” in sentences

“”My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

“Is The Enemy Of My Enemy My Friend Or My Enemy? Keeping your friends close but your enemies’ closer is a concept that has been around for a long time; however the explanation of this rule continues to elude some people.”

“Since this expression is so “old school”, it is more likely that you have heard this from your parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. The expression goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and your frets even closer. Practice playing the scale shown in Figure 7-2 up and down the neck, using alternate picking.”

“You humanoids have a saying, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” That is one saying you humanoids get right. Write it down, Maggamuffin, bolded and in caps: KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE, AND YOUR ENEMIES CLOSER.”

“That saying “Keep your friends close and keep your enemies closer” is dead wrong. You need to know who your enemies are and stay away from them because they are your enemies, and they want to bring you down, and the devil will use … “

Is “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” good advice?

Of course, as is always the case with philosophy, you can always argue that philosophers are wrong. How useful is the phrase “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”?

Yes

As Sun Zhu would argue, if you keep on top of your enemies, you can always know what they’re doing, so should they ever attack you, the defence is easy.

No

On the other hand, some would say enemies are best left alone as avoiding conflict is better than fighting.

How to “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”

If you decide it’s good advice, how do you intend on keeping your “enemies closer”?

It depends on what kind of enemies we’re talking about. It might be helpful to keep on top of how your competition is running their business, so you can stay one step ahead of them at all times.

In your social life, try inviting some of the people you don’t get along with too well.

And in politics, take a look at polling data to see which areas people tend to agree with your competition on.

Conclusion

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is an ancient proverb. It goes back thousands of years to the philosopher Sun Zhu. But today, most people know it from The GodFather.

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” just means that you need to keep on top of what your enemies are doing. Not only will this reduce the chance of an attack, but it will also make you more prepared should that ever happen.

“The Art of War” was written about warfare on the battlefield. Still, it was written in a way to make it easy to apply the advice within, such as “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” to your everyday life.