The origins of the idiom “keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer” is not well known. It might have been said by Sun Tsu or Niccolò Machiavelli. The phrase was used by Michael Corleone in the Godfather movies. The concrete meaning is to watch your enemies closer than your friends but like all idioms there is a less literal meaning, a more sublime and humble interpretation.
I believe humans have poor insight into who our friends or enemies are. Friends sometimes disappoint us, but people we discounted as unfriendly will surprise us with acts of generosity, kindness, and support. We tend to have too much confidence in our ability to perceive others’ motives and are often overly judgmental.
“‘Closer’ than what?” is the question. The answer is not closer than our friends, but in a more enlightened sense, closer than we might think we have time for or feels comfortable. In an era of hyper-partisanship and commercialized vitriol in the media, investing in a diverse group of friends is the strategic option. Keeping everyone close is the wise choice.