There are a lot of mottos that when you actually think about them, teach you not only how to behave, but how to change. For example -- "Only steal from the best" might sound like an admonition to steal, and it is, but there's more to it. It says you should acknowledge those who inspire you. They're the best. It's important to reward people for letting you stand on their shoulders because it will encourage more people to give generously, believing the generosity will be reciprocated.
Another famous motto: "Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer" has a surface meaning, it appears to be practical, and it is -- but at a sub-surface level you learn that enemies brought closer can become friends. Someone you're close with is someone you share intimacies with, that's what closeness is. And over time that develops into trust. Most people you think of as an enemy are probably more like you than you can see. Bring them closer and you see they mean well. Keeping them at a distance preserves their enemy-tude (yeah I've been watching The Big Lebowski).
Which brings me to a parable that I tried to relate this morning on Twitter and raised more questions than I answered. Here, in the longer form, I'll try to leave nothing to the imagination. It's a story of drawing your enemy closer, and getting a benefit.
Early in 2001 I got an email from someone whose name I don't remember (I immediately forgot it) who worked at the NY Times. The email included a link to a public folder on a website. The folder contained sub-folders with the names of various publications and syndication services. Inside each folder were files with names like sports.xml, international.xml, metro.xml, etc. My heart rate went through the roof, my breath drew short, my eyes opened wide, my tongue drooped out of my mouth. I felt as an ancient explorer must have felt when he opened a door and found King Tut's tomb. Oh the wealth. Oh the humanity!
When I looked inside the files I was not disappointed. Here were synopses of all the stories of the day. Everything that was in the print NYT, or on their website, in parsable XML. So I dropped everything and wrote an app in Radio UserLand called nyTimes.root, that read the files in one of the folders every hour and turned out RSS on one of UserLand's servers. Of course I wrote that up on scripting.com, including links to the RSS feeds.
Shortly thereafter, nine years ago to the day, I got a call from a licensing person at the Times, who very politely and nicely requested that I stop. Of course I complied. I knew the call would come. But I hoped it would start the conversation that it did.
The Times could have seen me as an enemy and distanced itself from me. But they took a different approach. They made me legal! A few months later I had a contract that allowed me to include the content in our Radio UserLand product. Of course I didn't hide the sources, a lot of people thought they had made a "discovery" when they found the feeds sort-of hidden in the product, but I knew they'd find them, I wanted them to.