Sunday’s Wisdom #96: We Get What We Give

“A ruler who kills those devoted to her is not a ruler who inspires devotion.”
– Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones
Season 5, Episode 8, “Hardhome”

No great, freaking duh! 😛

I love how Tyrion is able to put obvious truths very simply. It makes ideas which escaped someone’s notice before utterly inescapable.

When Tyrion says this to his new queen, Danaerys, he is defending the life of a man who is devoted to her, but who was not always so. When they first met, the man professed loyalty, but had none, and acted as a spy, directly endangering Dany and her unborn child. Then he grew to love her and be loyal, saving her life and serving her will. But the ghost of his deeds came back, years later, and he was sent into exile, spared only by virtue of the loyal service he had rendered.

Even then, the man was devoted to her, going above and beyond for her sake. When his zeal brings him back to face her judgment again, he brings Tyrion with him, to likewise offer service to her. The first subject of discussion is judgment, and it is a very difficult subject, with many factors to be weighed. Should the man die, now, after all his service? Tyrion argues, in short, that he must be punished, but not with death. His devotion to her is well known, and killing him will make everyone else less willing to be of service to her.

Practically at the same time, on the other side of the world, there is another man, Stannis, who follows a god of fire, having been promised great glory as a king. Unfortunately, his plans have met reality, in the form of a punishing winter snow in a frigid region of the world. His army cannot move on, either forward to meet the enemy or back to shelter with tentative friends. Growing desperate, Stannis offers a sacrifice to his god, burning his own daughter at the stake. She, who loved her father so much, died screaming for her parents to save her.

It seems to have worked, the next day, when the winter storm breaks and paths are clear. But much of his company were never loyal to him in the first place, serving his cause only because he had the coin with which to pay them. But burning his loving daughter alive apparently dampened their zeal, and nearly half his force has deserted overnight, taking all of the horses with them. Thus weakened, Stannis marches on to battle, only to be brought low in defeat. It’s all but a one-sided slaughter.

What Tyrion knew, and taught to Dany, and which Stannis was completely unaware of, was this: people are only as loyal to their leader as they believe their leader is to them. Dany forgave a former traitor, and prospered by that decision, while Stannis betrayed one who loved him, and whom he should have given everything to protect, and was destroyed by that decision.

As people, we tend to repay each other with what we get, kindness for kindness, malice for malice, and that gets multiplied many times over within the relationship between leaders and followers. When the king turns on his subjects, the subjects will surely turn on their king.

I think most people understand that, on some level. What we may not understand is that we are all leaders, each in our way, to the people around us. That’s part of why the way we treat others tends to be how we are treated. We choose our own karma.

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