Suresh has recommended and gifted me a couple of books that changed a lot of my thinking. So when he suggested that I read '48 Laws of Power' I was intrigued by what the book had to say. It is in the lines of Niccolo Machiavelli's Prince.
A caution; at first read it may challenge our self-righteous selves, but it soon becomes apparent that we all do this kind of stuff some time or another in good measure. This is the art of manipulation, of being seen and trusted as what one might not fully be, of moving ahead through manipulation, of creating the right symbols and noises. Some make absolute sense while some may make us feel that we cannot be like that. Whatever it is, this behavior does give away to me those who are seeking and courting power. And if you are vying for it, it might help to know.
Looked at it in a practical day-to-day manner, this can be applied to the power struggle within relationships - all relationships. It suddenly makes a lot of sense when looked at from that perspective. Personal relationships, seller to buyer, its all the same.
The 48 laws then - with a couple of lines from the text that I liked.
1) Never outshine the master
Everyone has insecurities. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.
2) Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
Be wary of friends - they will betray you more quickly for they are easily roused to envy. You have more to fear from friends than enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.
3) Conceal your intentions
Honesty is more likely to offend people. Its better to tailor your words. Conceal your intentions.
4) Always say less than necessary
The more you say the more likely you are to say something foolish. When you say less you appear greater and more powerful than you are.
5) So much depends on reputation, guard it with your life
Make your reputation unassailable, A solid reputation increases your presence and exaggerates your strengths without having to spend much energy.
6) Court attention at all costs
Stand out. Be conspicuous. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious. Attach your name and reputation to a quality that sets you apart from other people.
If you are lowly, attack the most visible to court attention. Then renew your limelight by varying your method to court attention.
7) Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
Never do yourself what others can do for you. Use the wisdom, knowledge and legwork of other people to further your own cause.
8) Make other people come to you - use bait if necessary
When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control. Make your opponent to come to you. Lure with gains and then attack.
9) Win through your actions, never through argument
It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate. "Never argue. In society, nothing must be discussed. Give only results." - Benjamin Disraeli
10) Infection : Avoid the unhappy and the unlucky
You can die from someone else's misery - emotional states are as infectious as diseases.
Associate with the happy and the fortunate.The unhappy draw misfortune of themselves; they will also draw it on you.
11) Learn to keep people dependent on you
To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted. The more you are relied upon the more freedom you have. Never teach them enough so that they can do without you. The ultimate power is to get people to do as you wish.
12) Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim
One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. The essence of deception is distraction. An act of kindness turns people into children.
13) When asking for help appeal to people's self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude
If you need help, uncover something in your request, that will benefit him and emphasize it all out of proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself. Do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. There is an art to asking for help. Remember your needs do not matter to others - only their needs matter to them. Self interest is the lever that moves people. The shortest and best way to make a fortune is to let other people see clearly that it is in their interests to promote yours.
14) Pose as a friend, work as a spy
To spy use other people. Ask indirect questions. Pay attention in social gatherings. Practice this tactic with caution and care.
15) Crush your enemy totally
A feared enemy must be crushed completely. More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation. The enemy will recover and will seek revenge. Crush him nt only in body but in spirit.
16) Use absence to increase respect and honor
Learn when to leave. Create value through scarcity. Everything in the world depends on absence and presence.
17) Keep others in suspense, cultivate an air of unpredictability
Nothing is more terrifying than the sudden and unpredictable. Be deliberately unpredictable. Your predictability gives others a sense of control.
18) Do not build fortresses to protect yourself - isolation is dangerous
The world is dangerous. Enemies are everywhere. Isolation exposes you. Its better to circulate among people, find allies. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.
19) Know who you are dealing with; do not offend the wrong person
Choose your victims and opponents carefully. Never offend or deceive the wrong person. The five most dangerous and difficult types are - the arrogant and proud man, the hopelessly insecure man, the suspicious man, the serpent with the long memory and the plain, unassuming and often unintelligent man. Wrongs are forgiven, contempt never is. The wrong people will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge.
20) Do not commit to anyone
Do not commit to any side but yourself. By maintaining your independence you become the master of others - playing people against one another, making them pursue you.
21) Play a sucker to catch a sucker - seem dumber than your mark
No one likes feeling stupid. Make your victims feel smart - not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives. The feeling that someone else has more knowledge is almost intolerable. Know how to make use of stupidity.
22) Use the surrender tactic, transform weakness into power
When you are weak surrender. Surrender gives you time to recover. Time for your conqueror's power to wane. Do not give him he satisfaction of fighting and defeating you - surrender first. Make surrender a tool of power.
23) Concentrate your forces
Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. When looking for sources of power, find the one key patron, the fat cow who will give you milk for a long time. Prize intensity more than extensity.
24) Play the perfect courtier
The perfect courtier flatter, yields to superiors, asserts power over others in the most oblique and graceful manner. If you apply the laws of courtiership there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court. The laws of courtiership are - avoid ostentation, practice nonchalance, be frugal with flattery, arrange to be noticed, alter style and language in accordance with the person you are dealing with, never be the bearer of bad news, never affect friendliness and intimacy with your master, never criticize those above you directly, be frugal in asking those above you for favors, never joke about appearances or taste, do not be the court cynic, be self-observant, master your emotions, fit the spirit of the times, be a source of pleasure.
25) Re-create yourself
Do not accept the roles that society foists upon you. Recreate yourself by forging a new identity. One that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image.
26) Keep your hands clean
You must seem a paragon of efficiency and civility. Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Mistakes do not vanish with apologies - they deepen and fester. Folly consists not in committing folly but in being incapable of concealing it.
27) Play on people's need to believe to create a cult-like following
People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. Become a focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise, emphasise enthusiasm over rational thinking and clear thinking. Give rituals and demand sacrifices. 5 easy steps to form a cult - keep it vague, simple 2) emphasize the visual and sensual over the intellectual 3) borrow other forms of organised religion to structure the group 4) disguise your source of income 5) set up and us versus them dynamic.
28) Enter action with boldness
If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Timidity is dangerous, better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.
29) Plan all the way to the end
The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work. Gently guise fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.
30) Make your accomplishments seem effortless
All the toil and practice that goes into your actions and all the clever tricks must be concealed. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.
31) Control the options, get others to play with the cards you deal
The best deceptions are the ones that seem to give the other person a choice; your victims feel they are in control, but are actually your puppets. give them options that come out in your favor whichever one they choose. The ways to do that are - color the choices, force the resister, alter the playing field, offer the shrinking options, put the weak man on the precipice and play on their emotions, put them on the horns of a dilemma.
32) Play to people's fantasies
The truth is often avoided because it is ugly and unpleasant. Never appeal to truth and reality unless you are prepared for the anger and disenchantment. Be the one who can conjure up fantasies. There is great power in tapping into the fantasies of the masses.
A few examples.
Reality - Change is slow and gradual, requires hard work, self sacrifice and patience. Fantasy: Sudden transformation will bring a total change in fortunes, bypassing luck, self sacrifice and time.
33) Discover each man's thumbscrew
Everyone has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. It is usually and insecurity, an uncontrollable emotion or need, a secret pleasure. How to find the thumbscrew- pay attention to gestures and unconscious signals 2) find the helpless child within 3) look for contrasts, what they appear is what they want to conceal 4) fill the voids of insecurity and unhappiness 5) feed on uncontrollable emotions
You can then bend their will easily.
34) Be royal in your fashion, act like one to be treated like one
Respect yourself and inspire the same sentiment in others. By acting regally and being confident in your powers, you appear destined to wear a crown. Be sublime in your deeds, lofty in your thoughtss and in all your doings show that you deserve to be the king.
35) Master the art of timing
Never seem to be in a hurry - hurrying always betrays a lack of control over yourself and over time. Always seem patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Know that time is an artificial concept that we have created to make the limitlessness of eternity and the universe more bearable and human.
Three kinds of time 1) Long time - success that is built slowly and surely is the only kind that lasts 2) Forcing time - to upset the timing of others, make them hurry, make them wait, make them abandon their pace 3) End time - know ho to finish. When the end comes, act quickly.
36) Disdain things you cannot have, Ignoring them is the best revenge
The more attention you pay the enemy, the stronger you make him. A small mistake is made worse and more visible when you try to fix it. Sometimes is is bets to leave things alone. If there is something you want but cannot have it, show contempt for it. Desire creates the most paradoxical effects - the more you want something, the more you chase after it and the more it eludes you. Contempt is a dish that is best served cold and without affectation.
37) Create compelling spectacles
Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create the aura of power. Dazzle by appearances - no one will notice what you are really doing. Words are risky business. Visuals short circuit the labyrinth of words and strike with an emotional power and immediacy. Like music it leaps right over rational and reasonable thoughts.
38) Think as you like but behave like others
It is safer to blend in ad nurture the common touch than in making a show of going against times. Show your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness.
39) Stir up waters to catch fish
Anger and emotion are strategically counter-productive. Always stay calm and objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself you gain a decided advantage.
Angry people end up looking ridiculous. They have taken things too seriously. Petulance is not power. It is helplessness.
If your opponent has a hot temper, irritate him. If he is arrogant, encourage his egotism.
40) Despise the free lunch
What is offered free is dangerous - usually involves a trick of a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your way you steer clear of gratitude, guilt and deceit. There is no cutting corners with excellence. Be lavish with your money and keep it circulating, for generosity is a sign and a magnet of power.
In the realm of power everything must be judged by its cost, and everything has a price.
For everyone able to use money, thousand more are locked in a self-destructive refusal to use money creatively and strategically. They are - 1) the greedy fish (pursue wealth without emotion) 2) the bargain demon (want for little less) 3) the sadist (use money to control, make you wait etc) 4) the indiscriminate giver
41) Avoid stepping into a great man's shoes
If you succeed a great man or a successful parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy and gain power by shining in your own way.
42) Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
Neutralize troublemakers by isolating them or banishing them. Strike at the source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter.
43) Work on the hearts and minds of others
Do not coerce. Seduce others into wanting to move in your direction. A person you have seduced will become your loyal pawn. Operate on individual psychologies and weaknesses to seduce. Work on their emotions, play on what they hold dear and what they fear.
Ignore the hearts and minds of others and they will hate you.
The key to persuasion is to soften people up and break them down gently.
44) Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
The mirror is the perfect tool for deception. Mirror your enemies, do exactly as they do and they cannot figure out your strategy. By holding up a mirror to them you seduce them with the illusion that you share their values. Few can resist the power of the mirror effect.
45) Preach the need for change but never reform too much at once
People are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic and will lead to revolt. Make a show of respecting the old way of doing things, make change a gentle improvement of the past.
46) Never appear too perfect
Appearing better than others is always dangerous. Envy creates silent enemies. Display occasional defects. Admit to harmless vices.
47) Do not go past the mark you aimed for, in victory, learn when to stop
The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril. In the heat of victory, arrogance and overconfidence can push you past the goal you had aimed for. You can make more enemies than you defeat. Do not allow success to go to your head. set a goal and when you reach it, stop.
48) Assume formlessness
By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack. Keep yourself adaptable and on the move. Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed. Be fluid as water; never bet on stability as a lasting order.
Its makes immense sense in many ways if you can see it differently and accept that this is how we react, how we truly are deep inside. Two ways it can help are - one, to understand how people really think and behave and, how gullible others can be if one can think ahead. There are those to whom power comes easy. But there are many to whom it does not. For these triers, the laws that are based in deception and subterfuge offer clear paths.
Among the eminently sensible ones is the one about despising the free lunch (brilliant principle on money consciousness), seeking help through the self-interest route and not through mercy and gratitude (diffident salespeople), entering action with boldness (I can learn from that), slay the father (I can do with that too), discover each man's thumbscrew etc. Read it. If you are self-righteous and cannot accept that such behaviors are part of us you will most likely get a headache. But if you can see them for what they are and marvel at what we are capable of then you can actually be amused and perhaps get smarter in the way you deal your cards. Thanks Suresh.