There’s a lesson, embedded in memes and contained in ancient holy books, and I think it merits exploring for the average person. It goes something like this: there is a secret power in being capable and prepared to say or do something extreme, but not doing it.
For the unaware, the phrase “hide your power level” goes back to Dragon Ball Z, in which some protagonists need to conceal their magical power from the bad guy, who also conceals his power level. I’m going to make the case to you that many other sayings are similar or equivalent. “Loose lips sink ships.” One we’ll soon examine is from Jesus, that is, “Blessed are the meek”. Others are found in Sun Tzu’s Art of War, an ancient book. As a common one goes, “All warfare is based on deception.”
What It’s Not
It doesn’t mean to lie to people, and destroy the trust that other people have for you. It doesn’t mean to be dishonest, nor does it mean integrity isn’t a high value. What people don’t understand is there is a black “yin” shadow to integrity, and you need both sides of the yin-yang. It is like silence, not saying too much or wearing your whole self on your sleeve. It is like humility, and not assuming your own value. You’ll find while it feels like lying by omission, the wisest figures of history and fiction usually have it, from George Washington to Gandalf.
There’s actually a massive lack of this somewhat nameless quality amongst millennials like myself and the younger zoomers, and it has serious consequences. People lose friendships or attention, get banned from forums and platforms, fail to build their creator persona, or are unable to find love. (We love those with it and hate those without). People brag and it backfires. Legal cases fall apart often nowadays because someone can’t keep their mouth shut.
Power goes away if you use it. If you have a gun and you start shooting people on the street, you will find yourself unarmed soon enough or your life over. You only get to pull it out once, so best to never do it. This rule should apply to many of our social interactions. Always have a nuclear option you didn’t use.
I’m going to apply the definition to the word “meek”. Some might quibble with that, but for etymological reasons I think it’s a good one.
Being meek means develop your dark side on purpose, eliminating negative feelings or manifesting them for good. Otherwise they are only temporarily suppressed. Jordan Peterson cites Carl Jung who called this dark side your “shadow”. Your shadow is your angry, violent, animalistic side — all the horrible things you hypothetically could do. It’s something everybody has, which is why events like violence and suicide are usually shocking — we pretend good people should be incapable of harm, merely knights without swords.
If you’re able to negotiate with the forces inside you that have a tendency to seek evil, you can harness them for good, to protect other people and make the world a better place. Many modern troubles are traceable to weak people whose weakness makes them selfish, self interested, mean, or downright evil. Many people rise up to fight them only in desperation, ending up just as evil.
I really appreciate Peterson’s take on this idea. You’ll find his detractors will misinterpret such a discussion as being openly pro-evil. Such lies are pretty lucrative clickbait; average people are often only pulled from complacency by (false) threats. Be very careful around people who don’t think they have a capacity for evil, such are often the most evil people among us.
I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t fear radical self-examination. Use it to decide what evil actions you will never take. In time you could build out your own morality of ways to not be evil. Along with this comes “what ifs” to prepare you for the worst case scenarios, and in time you’ll be able to think about those less often.
Principles to Live By
Here I will outline a few key principles you can live by to acquire the power of meekness.
Never go all out.
If you’re an old internet veteran you may recall a cringe-inducing post of a kid with a sword, the infamous caption or text being “forgive me sensei, I must go all out just this once”. Do that and you’re kicked out of the dojo, gym, etc. Never go all out. Never go with the nuclear option. Never ever ever ever go all out unless we’re talking about exercise and fitness.
Don’t be desperate.
If you are “doing everything you can” in life, you’re on the end of your rope. People who feel literally out of backup options do self-destroying things when they feel backed into a corner. This mindset is why some political activists resort to terrorism, and when it’s collective, it’s called demoralization, and has been used successfully to overthrow entire governments. Whatever your struggle in life, there must be something else you could be doing or something else you could resort to. Don’t resort to screaming and acting out and try to get revenge at your boss and quitting before you can be fired. If you conceal your power level by filling out job apps and using your days off to interview, you can leave without burning bridges and use your source of ire as a positive.
Don’t be a martyr.
A common mistake is taking one’s social capital for granted. If an online forum or platform bans too many innocent people, don’t invite it. It’s fine to protest others getting banned, but don’t sell your own influence for a chance to yell an epithet at the person you hate most. Some can even make a case why they are justifed – but seeking the self-congratulatory catharsis of such actions comes at a steep invisible price. You can’t count the number of people you’ll lose connection to or the number of future arguments you’ll want to be around to win. You can channel a hatred of taxes into something productive without spending the rest of your life in prison for trying to scare an IRS agent. Willingness to hurt yourself to hurt someone else is a key factor that leads one to dark places, and you become a villain.
Keep bad things to yourself.
We all have weaknesses, but if we tell people we are weak, people will treat us like we are. People are romantically attracted to those others already desire. Announcing that you aren’t desirable will make people wonder why. Saying aloud that you are single increases the odds you stay single. Average people won’t hate you, but you can certainly teach them to if you hate yourself enough. Focus on the good and in time others will too. Imagine if you put every mistake you’ve made in a workplace on a page and called it a resume! Many people do this all the time with the way they present themselves.
Keep intimate preferences to yourself.
This may be the most controversial one. Don’t tell other people what you specifically want if you don’t have to. Don’t post sexual content or announce what you desire. This is traditionally a practice among peer groups of the same sex, and if those peer groups are small and high trust, in small quantities it is seen as acceptable. People do it in full view of the online public, and it really pushes people of both sexes away. Politics is another easy example. See if you can fool people into misjudging your political affiliation or who you vote for while being open about your policy positions and beliefs. Once you’ve established shared beliefs with a person, only then should they find out. You might surprise each other in a positive way.
Acquire skills, silently.
This has a few benefits. If you want an edge on your coworkers for a promotion, go take some courses that would help. It’s not in your interest or duty to share what you are up to. Keep your paycheck quiet if you want to make more. (avoid unions that claim to negotiate for you!) Also, learn to use weapons or take martial arts. Get a gun or take Jiu-Jitsu, but don’t tell anybody.
There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.Ronald Reagan
If you do some of these things, you might find it eventually has a positive effect on your mental health. Being too integrated with other people adds the stress and anxiety of complexity to our lives, and social media has exacerbated that. We overshare, which actually increases our stress as we worry what others think of us, and then we proceed to overshare even more. The temptations to apologize, excuse ourselves, avoid embarrassment, or seek validation all lead us away from the very image we want others to have of us.
What can I do right now?
- Read Art of War if you haven’t. It’s a classic. Try to read it as an analogy for your life.
- Do good things in secret. This is one of the best ways to change the world. Secret Santa traditions around Christmas time fulfill this. Pay for the person behind you in a drive-thru line. Seek to do things that other people will pay forward, and if you can, conceal your identity from the recipient.
- Silently “sharpen your saw”. The final habit from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it means to keep improving. Read more nonfiction or self-help books. Get outside more and improve your diet and exercise without telling people much about it. If you dislike your job, start interviewing for a better job without letting your current employer or co-workers find out.
- Take martial arts classes. This can build self confidence and give you a better idea of what you’d do if ever physically attacked.
- Develop a financial safety net. You should always have at least $1000 in your bank account you never touch, or a little more if you can. You should have investments or assets like vehicle you could sell for some quick money if an emergency were to arrive.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. So conceal your power level.