The 48 Laws of Power

I actually sit on the fence with many of these laws. A good handful of them seem manipulative, unethical, and just downright vile. It’s like they’re only to be utilized by power-hungry, vacuous a–holes. In fact, The 48 Laws of Power seemed so terrible to me that I had forgotten about them for a full two years before I was recently reminded of their existence. It was a very decent, new friend who brought it up a couple of days ago. And with his decentness in mind (even though he himself admitted sitting on the fence with many of them), I was motivated enough to look the laws up again.

At first, reading all of The 48 Laws of Power this time made me cringe all over again. However, after going through all of them, I realized that every influential person I know has put these methods to use extensively — even I have. (Now please note: Extensively does not mean obviously or forcefully, or even greedily.) The thing with these laws is that they can be employed in a very gentle, subtle manner, and even out of the kindness of your heart! For example, the first law is to “Never outshine your master.” Initially, it comes off as a form of manipulation that you exercise in order to ultimately get what you want. And it is, in fact, something you do to get what you want. But try to frame it a different way: I’ve never dared to outshine someone who has authority over me but I never dared because I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that any “master” of mine deserves more attention, more credit, and essentially more power than I do. So what’s in it for me? To be on my master’s good side, of course – so that he/she would be willing to provide for me whatever help or resources I need from them (i.e. a letter of recommendation).

All of this made me realize how negative the connotation of power is and how detrimental it is for us to think of it that way. Power is not necessarily meant to be a weapon to lure everyone into doing your bidding. Instead, power is something you have to make sure you have out of self-respect, so that you maintain your independence and so that you yourself will never be taken advantage of. Just promise yourself that you won’t use it with bad intentions. Trust me, it’s for your own good.

Below is a brief list of The 48 Laws of Power (click on the link for a PDF file on explanations of each law, examples, and how to employ them effectively) – I love #10, and #34 even more so:

  1. Never outshine the master.
  2. Never put too much trust in friends; learn how to use enemies.
  3. Conceal your intentions.
  4. Always say less than necessary.
  5. So much depends on reputation. Guard it with your life.
  6. Court attention at all costs.
  7. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.
  8. Make other people come to you; use bait if necessary.
  9. Win through your actions, never through argument.
  10. Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky.
  11. Learn to keep people dependent on you.
  12. Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim.
  13. When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interests, never to their mercy or gratitude.
  14. Pose as a friend, work as a spy.
  15. Crush your enemy totally.
  16. Use absence to increase respect and honor.
  17. Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability.
  18. Do not build fortresses to protect yourself. Isolation is dangerous.
  19. Know who you’re dealing with; do not offend the wrong person.
  20. Do not commit to anyone.
  21. Play a sucker to catch a sucker: play dumber than your mark.
  22. Use the surrender tactic: transform weakness into power.
  23. Concentrate your forces.
  24. Play the perfect courtier.
  25. Re-create yourself.
  26. Keep your hands clean.
  27. Play on people’s need to believe to create a cultlike following.
  28. Enter action with boldness.
  29. Plan all the way to the end.
  30. Make your accomplishments seem effortless.
  31. Control the options: get others to play with the cards you deal.
  32. Play to people’s fantasies.
  33. Discover each man’s thumbscrew.
  34. Be royal in your fashion: act like a king to be treated like one.
  35. Master the art of timing.
  36. Disdain things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best revenge.
  37. Create compelling spectacles.
  38. Think as you like but behave like others.
  39. Stir up waters to catch fish.
  40. Despise the free lunch.
  41. Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes.
  42. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.
  43. Work on the hearts and minds of others.
  44. Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect.
  45. Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once.
  46. Never appear perfect.
  47. Do not go past the mark you aimed for; in victory, learn when to stop.
  48. Assume formlessness.

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