Of Followers and Friends by Francis Bacon
OF FOLLOWERS AND FRIENDS
COSTLY followers are not to be liked; lest while a man maketh his train longer, he make his wings shorter.
As we live our lives, we come in contact with varied types of people. Some of them develop liking towards you and warm up to you. The motivation for their coming near can be quite narrow and selfish at times. If you are a person of means with a liberal disposition, you will find people around you who exact monetary favours from you in so many different ways. [They may get themselves invited to dinners, parties and sojourns in your company – all at your expense. They may cleverly manipulate situations where you feel obliged to give them costly gifts, loans or similar favours.]
All these friends drain you financially pushing you towards difficult times. So, the lesser the number of such followers and friends, the better for you. You must learn to conserve your resources by shunning such self-seeking friends.
I reckon to be costly, not them alone which charge the purse, but which are wearisome and importune in suits.
Francis Bacon includes another set of followers in the ‘undesirable’ category. These are the people who add to your worries and make you feel bored. They may be persons who constantly complain about trifling matters, find faults with others needlessly or tender unsolicited advice too frequently. There are also those people who make unreasonable and unrealistic plea for help or favours. In Bacon’s opinion, one should learn to keep such people at arm’s length.
Ordinary followers ought to challenge no higher conditions than countenance, recommendation, and protection from wrongs.
In Bacon’s view, normal followers do not seek anything more than a little moral support now and then, or a little praise or recommendation and intervention when they confront wrongs or injustices. All these are harmless requests that do not weigh one down.
Factious followers are worse to be liked, which follow not upon affection to him with whom they range themselves, but upon discontentment conceived against some other; whereupon commonly ensueth that ill intelligence that we many times see between great personages.
There will always be friends and followers who have a penchant for creating division and bad blood between different individuals. Bacon advises to identify such people, and steer clear of them. These persons have some hidden dislike towards someone (Let us name him ‘A’.). To fuel their inimical feelings towards this person A, they look around to discover another eminent person (Let us call him ‘B’) who might be critical about this person A, due to whatever reasons.
Thus, it can be easily seen that the follower has befriended you out of his desire of revenge against someone you perceive as your opponent. The basis of such liaison is, therefore, both negative and destructive. In the long run, such followers would make you face undesirable and unpleasant consequences. One ought to spurn such friendships.
Likewise glorious followers, who make themselves as trumpets of the commendation of those they follow, are full of inconvenience; for they taint business through want of secrecy; and they export honor from a man, and make him a return in envy.
There are another apparently ‘desirable’ type of followers who also can cause difficulties for you. (the person they follow). They liberally praise you before others. But, inadvertently, they divulge some details about you, your profession and your business. In the process, your competitors and adversaries get to acquire sensitive information about you. Such a situation can mar your profession. Additionally, by showering praise on you in public, they create a backlash. Out of envy, some people needlessly become hostile towards you.
There is a kind of followers likewise which are dangerous, being indeed espials; 3 which inquire the secrets of the house, and bear tales of them to others.
If you are not discrete in choosing your friends and followers, you might admit to your inner circle people who are hideous. They may, in fact, be spies, out to collect insider information about you and your household. Such people are dangerous, and must be kept at bay.
Yet such men, many times, are in great favor; for they are officious, and commonly exchange tales.
Quite paradoxically, these types of men are, quite often, gladly befriended because they are instinctively formal, willing to help and appear cooperative. These people are quite indiscrete, and could divulge sensitive details of others before you.
The following by certain estates of men, answerable to that which a great person himself professeth (as of soldiers to him that hath been employed in the wars, and the like), hath ever been a thing civil, and well taken even in monarchies; so it be without too much pomp or popularity.
Bacon feels the followers such as soldiers, who fight wars for their kings, countries and masters, to be trusted and relied upon. These people remain loyal even in hard times. They practice and espouse virtues and noble traits. They do not demand much, and are always steadfast in their support.
But the most honorable kind of following is to be followed as one that apprehendeth to advance virtue and desert in all sorts of persons.
Among the followers, those who preach and practice virtue, are the most adorable lot. The disciples of Sadhus and saints constitute the best category of followers. They can never harm a person.
And yet, where there is no eminent odds in sufficiency, it is better to take with the more passable, than with the more able.
For practical considerations, it is not necessary to seek eminent people as followers. Even ordinary folks can be desirable followers. It is not necessary that they be persons of great ability or means.
And besides, to speak truth, in base times active men are of more use than virtuous.
During times of distress or calamity, able-bodied men come more handy than those preaching morality. The strong and stout people can guard against harm, offer protection and such other practical help.
It is true that in government it is good to use men of one rank equally: for to countenance some extraordinarily is to make them insolent, and the rest discontent; because they may claim a due.
Bacon has a word of advice for those in the top echelons of administration. He counsels them about the way they should treat bureaucrats and middle level officers in the government machinery. He is of the view that officers of the same rank ought to be treated equally. If preferential treatment is given to any of them, they may become proud and arrogant. Apart from this, this bestowing of recognition on one may annoy others, making them feel deprived of similar treatment.
But contrariwise, in favor, to use men with much difference and election is good; for it maketh the persons preferred more thankful, and the rest more officious: because all is of favor.
But Bacon concedes that showing favour to some officials has its good sides too. It makes the officials more loyal and dutiful. Seeing this, the other officers begin to be more enthusiastic and sincere in their work. As a result the whole government machinery shows more alacrity and alertness.
It is good discretion not to make too much of any man at the first; because one cannot hold out that proportion.
Bacon has a word of caution here. He says prematurely praising an officer before he delivers on a sustained manner might lead to the danger of overkill. Such undeserved praise may be counter-productive in the long run.
To be governed (as we call it) by one is not safe; for it shows softness, and gives a freedom to scandal and disreputation; for those that would not censure or speak ill of a man immediately will talk more boldly of those that are so great with them, and thereby wound their honor.
It is also not advisable to repose all your trust on a single individual. It can be construed as weakness. The man may misuse his exalted position to malign other innocent officials. Therefore, multiple officers must be confided upon instead of one, so that the intelligence inputs are crosschecked with one another and the false ones could be filtered out.
Also, there are some vicious officers who may show no outward sign of their evil mind, but will not hesitate to denigrate others on getting an opportunity.
Yet to be distracted with many is worse; for it makes men to be of the last impression, and full of change.
However, having too many informants and favoured officers is not a good idea as conflicting inputs might shroud the truth.
To take advice of some few friends is ever honorable; for lookers-on many times see more than gamesters; and the vale best discovereth the hill.
So, there must be a select group of loyal officers who can be trusted to give reliable inputs. There is an adage that the onlookers get to see more of a game than those who actually play it. Similarly, the valley gets better view of the hill.
There is little friendship in the world, and least of all between equals, which was wont to be magnified.
People of the same rank often fail to cultivate friendship amongst themselves because competition and jealousy. Such negative sentiments need to be quelled.
That that is, is between superior and inferior, whose fortunes may comprehend the one the other.
The fortunes of the senior and junior officers in government are intertwined with each other. So, they often rise or fall together.