You may know this famous quote from The Godfather Part II or Machiavelli, but it dates back to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Friends are somewhat predictable and you know their strengths and weaknesses. The idea of keeping your enemies closer is all about knowledge, information and strategy. If someone is your enemy, it’s helpful to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, how they think and what motivates their actions, what kind of tactics they may employ against you and what their pressure points are.
Another reason why it’s important to keep your enemies closer is that they may honest with you about a shortcoming, where a friend wouldn’t be to spare your feelings. Enemies also present times for adversity, which naturally pushes you out of your comfort zone and provides an opportunity for personal growth. Keeping your enemies close requires a balancing act, but once mastered will become second nature.
Think about it like this. With an enemy there is already foundation of mutual respect, even if you dislike each other. If you are enemies, you each see each other as a threat and we respect people who challenge us on some level. There is this classic scene in the movie Heat where this is illustrated. Al Pacino plays a detective who is hunting Robert De Niro’s character. Beneath the surface, there is a huge amount of respect for each other and how they are executing their game of cat and mouse with each other.
Typically we will have some shared objectives, interests or values with our enemies. Having resources or information to give them will make you an asset to them and vice versa. This allows us to work with them closely so we can gain invaluable insight to how they work. What motivates their actions? How do they persuade people? What causes them to get pushed off their game?
This is all good information to have, should our enemies attack us because we can use that information to defend ourselves.