Outwitting the Devil

I always considered the forces of good and evil manifested in Judeo-Christian religions as being a titanic struggle for human souls between God and the opposition, the Devil. Depending on which had the most significant influence on your life will determine whether you would be rewarded after death by ascending to enjoy everlasting peace and joy in Heaven or punished by eternal damnation, roasting in Hell. To the true religious believer reaching Heaven after death is a powerful incentive to attempt to do good and not harm anyone.

I believe that some people view the Heaven and Hell reward and punishment similarly as stated by the David Clayton Thomas hit song “And When I Die” –

“I can swear there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell
Swear there ain’t no heaven and pray there ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell”

The concept is so abstract that we go through life hoping for the best, and perhaps when it is all over, we go to sleep and never wake up.

I recently finished a fascinating book by Napoleon Hill. For those of you who may not know Napoleon Hill, he was the author of the most famous and widely read self-help book, “Think and Grow Rich.” After “Think and Grow Rich” was published in 1937, he wrote a follow-up book, “Outwitting the Devil.” I came across the book entirely by accident. However, after reading the history of this book, I was intrigued by what was so controversial that the published manuscript took over 70 years to appear and more than 40 years after Hill’s death. The book is a satirical interview between Napoleon Hill and the Devil himself. In this interview, Hill manages to draw out the Devil’s tactics to trap people into misery and hopelessness, thereby showing us how to avoid its grasp and live a good life.

His family and associates persuaded Napoleon Hill not to publish the manuscript because it was deemed too controversial and exposed some of Hill’s failings in his early career. These failings might have tarnished his reputation as a success guru. Nevertheless, I found the book witty, insightful, and full of wisdom that should be part of anyone’s library.

The central premise in the book is that good and evil exist within us and that our “other self” within us does know the truth. If we are willing to listen to our “other self,” we can have faith in ourselves which is the only proper way of operating in life. However, as Hill attributes tactics used by his fictitious Devil, negativity works to undermine every opportunity by dividing humanity into drifters and non-drifters.

Hill quotes the Devil saying, “I can best define the word ‘drift’ by saying that people who think for themselves never drift, while those who do little or no thinking for themselves are drifters.” Whether one drifts through life, allowing external factors to dominate their minds, or one who takes charge of their life by learning to think for themselves are habits formed by repetition.

To stop or avoid drifting, Hill has the Devil reveal seven ways to combat negative forces to find freedom in all walks of life:

  1. Have a definite purpose: Choose a purpose for your life, a big goal, and move towards it relentlessly.
  2. Self-Mastery: Discipline equals freedom according to the Devil. If impulse drives your life, you will go nowhere; you will be in the Devil’s trap, exactly where he wants you as a drifter.
  3. Learn from adversity: Failures are that – just failures. Either we learn from them, or let them stop us is up to us.
  4. Control environmental influences: Who you hang out with matters and how you take care of yourself and others.
  5. Time: Time and persistence can make drifting and negativity permanent through repetition. It can also make positivity and wisdom permanent.
  6. Harmony: You must actively balance the mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of life.
  7. Caution: Always act, but always think before you move. Inaction is still an action, but it is the action of drifting.

Napoleon Hill was not a religious man, but he was spiritual. He believed in the concept of infinite wisdom where anyone who had the desire and the sense of purpose could connect to its universal power. This phenomenon was the basis for the book and movie, the Secret. Eighty years after its writing, “Outwitting the Devil” is still as relevant today as in the 1930s.

Hill was a controversial figure, and some doubt the authenticity of meeting Andrew Carnegie and the 500 or so successful men that led Hill to the principles of success outlined in “Think and Grow Rich.” Nevertheless, in “Outwitting the Devil,” Napoleon Hill does delve into his checkered past and presents astonishing insights into human character. We all vacillate between positive and negative forces. I believe it is for us to choose between Heaven or Hell, on earth and not wait until we die to find out if such places exist.


6 thoughts on “Outwitting the Devil

  1. Thanks, Joe, for this insightful perspective and fascinating review of a book I didn’t know existed.

    Where did you find it, by the way?

    I particularly loved your condensation of Hill’s “Seven Steps to Freedom in your life”!

  2. Thanks, Joe, for this insightful perspective and fascinating review of a book I didn’t know existed.

    Where did you find it, by the way?

    I particularly loved your condensation of Hill’s “Seven Steps to Freedom in your life”!

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