The maxims of Ptah-Hotep

  1. Don’t be conceited about your own knowledge. Take advice from the ignorant, as well as from the wise, since there is no single person who embodies perfection nor any craftsman who has reached the limits of excellence.

2. The perfect word is as rare as the emerald yet it may be found among the maidservants working at the millstone.

On debating with someone who actually is superior, or considers himself / herself to be superior:

3. In debate with an opponent who is both sure of himself and is more skilfull than you, keep your head down and don’t over-react. Do not set your heart against his, for you will not be able to equal him.

  • Don’t make the enemy feel challenged. Don’t make an attack (even though you are able to), that over-stretches your position for the long-term and makes your frontline very thinly spread. Respond. but don’t over-react. Respond in accordance to your capacity to stretch your resources.

4. May you bring down the one who expresses himself badly by not opposing him while he is in full flow; that is how he will be exposed as ignorant, as soon as your heart dominates your over-abundance.

5. When facing an equal opponent, your skill is shown to its best advantage if you remain silent while he flounders in speech. The audience will be unmoved by his arguments while your reputation will soar in the eyes of the great ones.

6. When debating someone who’s inferior, do not take advantage of his weakness by attacking him. Let him know his own mediocrity and he himself will provide the rod with which to beat his own back.

7. Resist the temptation to show him up and don’t lose your temper. It’s despicable to crush an inferior. People will then act according to your wishes, while your adversary will sink in the eyes of the great one.

  • Taking advantage of his own weakness will reduce your standing or respect in the eyes of his concubines and soldiers you want to mesmerise. Instead, point out his weakness to him, and he himself will provide the rod with which to beat him up. Somehow, manage to point out his weakness to him.

8. If you have the responsibility of leadership, are in charge of setting guidelines for a large number of subordinates, seek every opportunity to be effective so your behaviour is irreproachable. (effective as in reaching objectives)

9. Great is the rule — its effect on both great and small is complete and long-lasting. The rule is illuminating and practical and has not changed since the time of Osiris. Those who break the law must be punished — something the greedy fail to understand. Wrong-doers can achieve material gain, but evil never leads to good. It is wrong to say: “I want only to take things to enrich myself, “ rather than “I want my actions to benefit the position entrusted in me.”

Whenever anything reaches its due term, its the rule that endures. And a just man must acknowledge the domain of his spiritual son.

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