I'm really kind of sick of it. It is by turns infuriating and disturbing. I'd like to see, just once, someone ask whether the question itself is a question that should be answered? Or feared? Or dismissed?
The disturbing part is seeing people doing their best to put other people into the position of having to answer this question, while even more people do their very best to bow to its legitimacy, while edging away from it, or doing their best to avoid it altogether, or even to flee from it - which I think gives away their own answer, and their capitulation, to it.
Why does no one ever question the question?
Way back when, at the opening of modernity, Niccolo Machiavelli asked the question this way:
"...whether it be better to be beloved than feared, or to be feared than beloved."You need to think about the question itself, not your answer to it, but what it is after in your answering of it, "Is it better to be feared or loved?", do you notice the squirming sensation you have while reading it? Do you notice the uncomfortable sensation of having to concede something no matter how you answer it? This is not a question that is asked in order to hear your answer, but as a means of forcing you to give up your ground, and to retreat onto the questioners chosen field of battle (consider the source people, 'hell-ooo'... Machiavelli?! - that should at the very least raise a few flags!) The answer Machiavelli gave to it, as advice to those who would be Princes over men, was:
" It will naturally be answered that it would be desirable to be both the one and the other; but as it is difficult to be both at the same time, it is much more safe to be feared than to be loved, when you have to choose between the two."He acknowledges that people will resist the idea that they must be one or the other, but that, not surprisingly since his book is about Power and how to get and use it, he assures you that being feared will be more effective, 'safer' than being loved. As an aside, it always amazes me how incredibly naive are those who claim to be 'practical', but that's an issue for another post, for this post, the question itself is the issue that needs to be questioned.
The question, if you pay attention to it, to what it presumes and demands of you, is a foolish one, if, that is, it were actually after thoughtful consideration and useful information from you. It is not. It is not. Instead, it presents you with a false alternative and draws you out of familiar structure of your thoughts, and leads you onto indefensible ground, and abandons you there. Notice how he presents what are end results - being feared or loved - which are the results of other people's awareness of your behavior, over time, your actions, reactions, whether you are fair, Just, reasonable, kind, generous, murderous, etc - none of that is taken into account, nor in any sort of context - he simply demands that you dismiss the need to consider HOW and WHY you might be loved or feared, or who might (and who might not) feel that way towards you, and demands that you choose how you would rather be perceived by them - which by the way is not something that is in your power, but theirs.
There are a whole lot of assumptions going on in that question, and even more that is discarded out of hand, in asking it. There is also much that is potentially prevented from occurring, should you decide to answer it, such as thinking in principles, thinking in relation to reality, thinking towards a better understanding of what is true - all of that is prevented simply by answering this question, no matter which answer you give. If you answer it, you are under HIS power.
But that is only visible if you bother to question the question.
If you don't... you are quickly lost. To begin with, it assumes that your goals, supposedly practical ones, should be centered upon how others perceive you to be, rather than on the soundness of your own actions. The question, if you accept it, demands that you accept the wisdom of pursuing how you appear in other people's eyes, and with no context whatsoever, it simply places you in an empty arena, facing a presumably daunting foe, with nothing to defend yourself but their love for you (a love which the question assumes to be a wimpy sort of 'nice feelings' for you), or their fear of you (which the question assumes can be great, if you buy into your ability to be frighteningly powerful).
This supposedly 'realistic', gutsy, 'powerful' question - is in fact, at root, a cowardly one, one which is so fearful of reality that it seeks to hide from it, one which demands that you surrender your world for theirs, and it is a revealing question, revealing of what the questioner believes, for what the questioner presumes, is that your life (and his) are ultimately under the control of the opinions of others. The question as such, answering either way, is one that weakens you immeasurably, simply by answering it.
This question, if you accept it as being a legitimate one, transforms the focus of your life into being what others think of you, with no connection to your actual life or with any other tie to reality... the result is that in answering it either way, it effectively enslaves you to the disintegrated perceptions and opinions of others - something which, at best, you truly cannot control - worse, no matter which way you answer it, it has forced you to surrender your ability to think in principles, it has forced you to surrender your understanding of Right and Wrong and cause and effect, in exchange for bowing your head to the pursuit of Power.
"... but words will never hurt me..." my Ass!
Obviously neither option is a worthy choice.
If someone is seriously asking this question of you, if someone attempts to maneuver you into a position of being where they think you have to reply to it, they are very likely hoping to mislead you into promoting their purposes, which will necessarily be leading you further and further from reality and deeper into error and falsehood.
The question itself should be feared, but not run from; rather, you should turn and face it, and with a shrug or a laugh, or both, dismiss it as the folly that it truly is. Their power really is as feeble as that, it is entirely dependent upon your giving them power over you, as with the Vampire at the door, they require your consent to enter your home to suck your blood - answer 'no thanks' and close the door in their face, and they are powerless. If they continue knocking and pressing you for an answer, offer them an alternative which will turn the tables on them somewhat, with a more honest version of their question, such as:
Is it better to be deserving of fear, or of love?That puts the issue in an entirely different light, doesn't it? Rephrasing the question in that way will bring you, and them, back into the consideration of fundamentals, such as why do people love, and why do they fear? That will at the very least, put you back onto the ground of reality and within reach of Principle and Truth - which are your only realistic means of dealing with reality and gaining true power within it.
The short answer is that people tend to love because they perceive and believe in some manner of goodness in the other person, or object, which they love. That goodness which they love, they seek, seek to be with, and seek to make themselves worthy of, and through their very best efforts to become the person who does do what is Right and worthy of respect, they can acquire true value and authority. The actions of such a person are respected, even in disagreement, because they are seen as being Just and above petty and unworthy actions towards others, and as a result such people are also very likely to be people who are generous in matters of spirit and action. Such a person, a person with integrity, who can be trusted, is one who warrants the love of others, and history shows that people have, and will, go out of their way, far out of their way, of their own choice, to please, to live up to, and to defend, those they love.
That, is a good position to be in, in life.
The Fear that is not to be feared, but desired
But what does it mean to fear, or to be feared? Fear... as with most emotions, is not something which has only one cause, you have to ask about the nature of the fear and what caused it, because those causes can be both positive and negative. There are at least two forms of fear: Fear which someone seeks to generate in, and impose upon, others, by the anticipation of their unjust and harmful actions; or the fear which someone might generate within themselves for fear of actually acting unjustly. These are two very different Fears, and it is best that you know the difference.
A person can fear to lose the respect of those they love, they can fear falling short of what they know they themselves should do, and fear the shame and disappointment that their false actions might bring them in the eyes of the ones they love. This type of 'fear', spurs a person on to do, and do as well as possible, what they know they should do, and should do it because it is Right to do - not for appearances sake, but because it is Right to do them - under that internal motive power people will often undertake such actions which they might otherwise have shirked or avoided, in the effort to merit the judgment of those they love. People will often live up to their own greatest capabilities, only because the love of another inspired them to attempt it.
Such a love is not made up of feeble feelings, neither does it leave a person unprotected; the person who can inspire such love in others - not the appearances only, but the actuality - are tapping into something which those who pursue power will never achieve. In such a case, the ideas, emotions and actions of a person are directed towards a worthy goal, they are integrated and free from inner conflict and contradictions, Love and Fear work together and often generate like minded thoughts and actions from those around them, generating a power that is potentially unstoppable. There are many examples of people such as this from history which come to mind, George Washington comes to mind,
"First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate and sincere—uniform, dignified and commanding—his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. . . . Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. . . . Such was the man for whom our nation mourns."The Fear to be feared
On the other hand, when people truly fear the actions of another - it is usually because they are unwarranted, arbitrary and unjust actions, whose forces are being directed towards them and even physically threatening to them.
The person who sees being feared as a goal, is not a person who is regarded with respect, and they are not regarded so because they are not good - they are corrupt, they deal in falsehoods and pain, by choice and intention. Such a person who purposefully engenders such fears in others, is someone who regards being feared as a desirable goal, as is the case for someone who seeks after Power alone, Power over others, and by any means possible. With such a Machiavellian person, if they do happen to do some deeds that are seen as being good, you can be assured that they were nothing more than incidental and unsought, a necessary means to their ends; Goodness and Truth are not and never will be their aims, power alone is. In such a person corruption is their soul, corruption as a means to the power of acquiring what they do not deserve, their Ends Justify their Means, they take what they can, because they can, and are in the necessary habit of maintaining it by the only way left open to them by themselves: through intimidation, force, violence and fear.
Naturally people will seek to escape their attentions, will often knuckle under to them, or betray others to them, but these same people will also do nothing for them that they can avoid doing, and they will also do anything they feel they can get away with doing that will thwart their purposes or even destroy the person they fear, and they will gladly do so if and when they can. The only thing keeping them from that, is fear, and that fear must be ever increased to maintain such power over others, and as any trainer will tell you, there is a limit, there is a point where animals, and especially people forced to cower like animals, will snap, there is a point where the fearful will decide that accepting such abuse is no longer worth the price of their fears, and they will turn on the person who thought their fear gave them unlimited power over them, and unleash their fury upon them.
See Mussolini or Nicolae Ceaușescu, for reference.
The Powerlessness of seeking Power
The soul power such a person has in causing people to fear them, is the power he must seek from them and requires their assent to the power to intimidate and injure them - if they don't give into their fear of him, he is powerless. Such power is a chimera, it may seem to work for the moment, pragmatically, but it inspires in others not only fear, but hatred of them, and ensures that those they supposed to be under their control, will at the first available opportunity, seek their destruction.
That is the only power of power - the power to will towards their own self-destruction.
What is sought in asking the Machiavellian question, is the power to divide you from the solid ground of Principle, and to force you into acting upon 'what will work' for the moment, and as is typically true, they do so by the use of the arbitrary, in this case of presenting you with the false alternative of having to choose between being feared and being loved. There is only one thing you can be sure of, if these are the options being offered you, the betterment of your life, has nothing to do with why you are being asked the question they are asking you.
It's all Greek to me
As the old dead white guys said: 'Know thyself', and 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. Ask questions, rather than seek answers, and be careful of the questions you choose to answer.
One of those old Greeks, a master of questioning (though not necessarily of answering) was Plato. Plato, and what we have of his teacher Socrates through his dialogues, is someone who should be read by anyone who begins examining their life (there was a time when an Education could not be thought complete without having done so), though not without caution (a form of Machiavelli's question actually comes up in the dialogues). Many, if not most, of Plato's answers, I disagree with, and for consequential reasons, but his manner of approaching questions is usually outstanding, and they have a way of making you consider what you otherwise might have remained asleep to.
Take this for instance, from the most famous of his dialogues, The Republic (which when read superficially has been used to support totalitarianism - always question the questions!), this passage with Socrates questioning Glaucon, is worth more than a moments consideration:
"...And he who, having a sense of beautiful things has no sense of absolute beauty, or who, if another lead him to a knowledge of that beauty is unable to follow—of such an one I ask, Is he awake or in a dream only? Reflect: is not the dreamer, sleeping or waking, one who likens dissimilar things, who puts the copy in the place of the real object?Are you awake? Do you question the questions asked of you? Or do you, like a sleepwalker, simply put one foot in front of the other, and pass on unknowing of where you are or where your are heading?
I should certainly say that such an one was dreaming.
True knowledge is the ability to distinguish between the one and many, between the idea and the objects which partake of the idea.
But take the case of the other, who recognises the existence of absolute beauty and is able to distinguish the idea from the objects which participate in the idea, neither putting the objects in the place of the idea nor the idea in the place of the objects—is he a dreamer, or is he awake?
He is wide awake.
And may we not say that the mind of the one who knows has knowledge, and that the mind of the other, who opines only, has opinion?..."
The Questions you ask - and those you don't - the questions you are willing to entertain - or not - how they are posed and why, how they are pursued, are a much greater achievement and sign of Education, than any slew of skills or answers that an 'educated' person might amass and rattle off to impress you with.
If you want to live well and successfully, you'd do best to start with questioning the questions that others expect you to blindly accept.
In other words: Wake up!