Years ago, the political philosopher Leo Strauss wrote an essay titled “Persecution and the Art of Writing,” in which he advocated reading some philosophers “between the lines.” For a host of reasons, the philosopher felt that the truth he had to speak could only be spoken surreptitiously or “by means of brief indication.”
Of course, one can run into a lot of trouble scholastically when arguing that a philosopher meant to say something other than what he explicitly stated. I mean, how are you supposed to prove that?
Strauss insists that a “between the lines” reading is at least plausible if you find cases where the thinker has subtly contradicted orthodox beliefs (or the ruling beliefs of the time) and is absolutely necessary when you find “explicit evidence” (such as correspondence or journal entries) indicating that the philosopher has chosen to express his views in this esoteric manner.
Why am I bringing up Strauss? I was thinking a lot about secret messages when I read The Go-Giver, by Bob Burg and John David Mann, in preparation for Bob’s appearance as a guest on our podcast, Marketing Smarts. (If you’d like to hear my entire interview with Bob, you may do so here.)
The book is a business parable about a young everyman, Joe, who finds himself in a jam at work and seeks the advice of an older gentleman, Pindar, who teaches him “The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success.” Joe puts the laws into practice and finds the success he was seeking.
On the surface, the message of the book is fairly straightforward: If you focus on how providing value for others and serving them, then you will ultimately succeed in business and in life. The idea that those lessons are not just business lessons but also life lessons is highlighted towards the end of the book when a character tells Joe, “The point is not what you do. Not what you accomplish. It’s who you are.” [Emphasis in original.]
What made me wonder whether there might be something beneath this surface, however, were Pindar’s repeated admonitions: “Appearances can be deceiving… In fact, they nearly always are.” He tells Joe that in their first meeting, repeats it when they meet the character Ernesto (here replacing “In fact” with “Truth is”), and then towards the end when he says, “Just to keep things interesting, things are always a bit the opposite of what they seem.”
Believing this sentiment to be a strong indication that we should read the book between the lines, I asked Burg about it. He laughed, saying that there was no secret message, just the simple but profound truth of what leads to success.
Not satisfied with that answer (I’m somewhat paranoid by nature—studying German philosophy will do that to you!), I asked Burg whether the secret message might have something to do with his political beliefs. His beliefs are not a secret; he states in his bio, “Bob is an advocate, supporter and defender of the Free Enterprise system, believing that the amount of money one makes is directly proportional to how many people they serve.” (That last part is a paraphrase of The Go-Giver’s “Law of Compensation,” which states, “Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.”) However, his book is not overtly political in any way.
While Burg didn’t go so far as to say that I had uncovered a “secret message,” he did point out the laws of success described by John and himself “would not hold true within a communist system.” We also spent the last segment of the interview discussing the portrayal of the wealthy in the mass media (“Society as it is makes money the enemy,” he said) and the proper role of government in a society distinguished by “free minds and free markets.”
Have you read The Go-Giver? Did you uncover any secret messages?
More importantly, do you think it is effective to create interest in your products or your brand by suggesting that “there’s more to it than meets the eye”?
(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Young Man Reading)