Notes Psychology

Strategy 27: Seem to Work for the Interests of the Group (The 33 Strategies of War)

The Alliance Strategy

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Dr. Murray Bowen

Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deeds is the only compensation for noble sacrifices.

Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898)

Make alliances with others, but make sure you don’t get emotionally attached. Shift your alliances whenever necessary. Sentiment belongs to personal relationships, but not to business alliances. People will respect you for being spirited and realistic, instead of resenting you. But beware of making alliances with the wrong people. There are some that you must always stay away from, who’s alliance will only harm you. You can generally identify those by their over-enthusiasm to work with you. Be especially careful if they are charming, and if they talk a lot about the ideals of loyalty, trust, and friendship – they are often con artists trying to scam you.

Since in all her decisions, whether by chance or by choice, Rome took all steps necessary to make herself great, she did not overlook fraud. She could not at the start have been more deceitful than she was in the means she took, as we were saying just now, to acquire allies, since under this title she made them all her servants, as was the case with the Latins and other peoples round about. For she first availed herself of their arms in order to subjugate neighbouring peoples and to build up her reputation as a state, and then, having subdued them, she increased to such an extent that she could beat anyone. Nor would the Latins ever have realised that in reality they were mere slaves, if they had not seen the Samnites twice defeated and forced to accept Rome’s terms.


Never become too dependent on a single ally. Always make sure to have several allies at the same time. Being too dependent one person will give them too much power over you and will minimize your options. This does not mean you should have an extensive network of allies, because this will only embroil you in unnecessary battles.

The forces of a powerful ally can be useful and good to those who have recourse to them…but are perilous to those who become dependent on them.

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1513)


Murray Bowen was a professor of clinical psychiatry at Georgetown University, he was a leading family therapist. He was the oldest of five children. June, one of his brothers, was asking for a controlling share of the family business since he was working the hardest. The father supported him while the mother didn’t. Extended family members got involved and alliances were formed.  It was ugly.

Bowen knew about a phenomenon called an “anxiety wave” where the oldest and most vulnerable member passes away as a result of emotional turmoil within the group. He wanted to prevent this from happening.

One of his theories was that a person was healthy to the extent that he could maintain autonomy outside the group and yet be a part of it. This was a difficult task since families have their own interlocked networks.

Murray Bowen was a man in his fifties and found himself being sucked into the group dynamic, losing ability to think straight, and regressing emotionally.  He wanted to change the dynamic, it was bad for him personally, and for his family.

Enter into action under the cover of helping another’s interests, only to further your own in the end…. This is the perfect stratagem and disguise forrealizing your ambitions, for the advantages you seem to offer only serve as lures to influence the other person’s will. They think their interests are being advanced when in truth they are opening the way for yours.

Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658)

Eventually, he came up with a solution. While he was away from the family, he sent letters to his brother, June, his sister and his mother. These letters were controversial and dramatic, they stirred up a lot of anger and resentment. But this was Murray’s plan – his plan was to diffuse the tension in the group by making himself the focus of the conversation.

When he went home to meet with his family, many angry conversations followed – mostly attacks on Murray, but also many hidden concerns were exposed. Murray managed to remain detached for the entire time. In the end, everyone was left feeling better. His mother remarked that even though it was his most turbulent visit, it was also his best. The family stayed in contact after this episode, and the bitter alliances ceased to form.

I regarded most of the people I met solely and exclusively as creatures I could use as porters in my voyages of ambition. Almost all these porters sooner or later became exhausted. Unable to endure the long marches that I forced on them at top speed and under all climatic conditions, they died on the way. I took others. To attach them to my service, I promised to get them to where I myself was going to that end-station of glory which climbers desperately want to reach….


Read The 33 Strategies of War

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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