In this five-part series, I want to discuss individualism and power by analyzing the brilliant book, The 48 Laws of Power.
What Is the 48 Laws of Power
The 48 Laws of Power is, without a hint of hyperbole, a masterpiece. Robert Greene masterfully describes how to gain, maintain, and expand power through self-control, manipulation, and subterfuge. For the individual, The 48 Laws of Power will help you understand how to protect yourself from the power-hungry as well as how to achieve self-mastery.
Through five blog posts, I want to analyze this book through the lens of individualism. The first post serves as an introduction to the power-hungry and the tactics they utilize to garner and expand their power.
My second post covers offensive tactics. For example, how to conceal your intentions, the importance of doing rather than saying, and much more. These tactics are primary proactive and rely heavily on your volition, direction, and determination.
This post will cover defensive tactics. Tactics include how to avoid supporting evil causes and how to reject gifts from dishonest people. My defensive techniques are perfect for protecting yourself against the power-hungry who seek to control you.
My fourth post will detail the crucial laws individuals should avoid at all costs. These laws will undermine your virtue and individual sovereignty. Why? Because submitting to the lust of power will enslave you to the very people you wish to control.
Lastly, I will conclude with a post summarizing everything and providing further tools for growth and development.
Defensive Power Laws
One of the benefits of understanding The 48 Laws of Power is the more profound appreciation for the power-hungry and their tactics. Comprehending the desires of manipulators enables us to defend ourselves against their strategies.
For example, if the office gossiper is offering to be your friend by trading secrets, then you should be wary. The gossiper is practicing law 14 “pose as a friend, work as the spy.” The gossiper is disarming your defenses by pretending to be your friend. Once they gain your secrets, they will sell you out as they’ve done to others.
As individualists, we should never fall into the trap of ignoring power structures and the desires others have to dominate those structures. Make no mistake: people want to control your life and utilize your time, energy, and money for their ends. Therefore, it’s essential to go on the defensive. The following laws will ward off anyone who wishes to harm you or your loved ones.
Law 5 – So Much Depends on Reputation Guard it with Your Life
“Always control your narrative.” Reputation is how to world sees you. If you have a positive reputation, people will interact positively with you. If you have a negative reputation, they will respond negatively. For example, if you have a reputation for being an honest man, a hard worker, and a faithful husband then virtuous, noble people will flock to you.
However, if you have a reputation for being stupid with your wealth, then manipulators will flock to you. Or, if you have a reputation for cheating on past relationships, then it will become harder to form meaningful unions.
Your reputation is essential and is formed by your actions. Therefore, you need to be a responsible individual. Most mudslinging will fail to stick if your daily life is the exact opposite of the deceits.
Reduce Your Vices
Therefore, I suggest reducing your vices while developing a public persona that is professional and approachable. The fewer vices you have, the harder it’ll be to criticize you or catch you relapsing. If you don’t have a vice for wasting money, for example, then your critics lose one more avenue by which to exploit or belittle you.
Your public persona should always be friendly and respectable. If you work at a corporate office, give people a simple, comfortable individual to talk to. Share basic stories and laugh at jokes. By being approachable, you’ll garner a positive reputation.
Law 10 – Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky
“Associate with the successful.” The unhappy, the unmotivated, and the ungrateful are people who you must avoid. These people wreak havoc wherever they go and are experts at destroying successful individuals.
There are many types of unlucky people. Some people are lazy; others have broken relationships; others are parasites who consume the wellbeing and success of their loved ones. No matter the case, weak individuals will strip you of your time, energy, and money.
For example, I’ve stopped talking to many apathetic and ungrateful people. These people flip through channels, buy garbage food, steal from others, then declare that the world is against them. These people have no sense of purpose or pride, so they never want to improve themselves or their situations.
Such people will hurt you. They may not steal your resources, but they will drain you of your time and energy. You need to surround yourself with successful, driven individuals who wish to improve their lives. By surrounding yourself with driven, passionate people, you will be positively influenced and inspired.
There is no exception to the rule. If you identify someone who makes you feel tired and lost, then leave and find better company.
Law 24 – Play the perfect courtier
“Approach everyone with a smile.” When people see you smiling, they either like your positivity or respond with suspicion. Manipulators and abusive managers will struggle to understand what you’re doing or hiding. However, when you have a smile and a positive mindset, the manipulators can’t critique your attitude, which robs them of one avenue for manipulating you.
Say you have an annoying co-worker who is the office gossip. They love pulling schemes and hurting others. Additionally, they want to rope you into their plans. You could respond with annoyance and call them out on their nonsense. Or, you could respond with a smile and state you have to get back to work.
The gossiper may be offended by your respectful decline, but they have nothing to attack. You were graceful, kind, courteous, and respectful. And you are here to work. The gossiper may not like you, but if they try to gossip about you, everyone will stand up for you. (“You mean Bret? Bret’s not rude. He’s a good guy. He’s always happy and positive”).
Always Keep A Smile On
Additionally, if you are always approaching everyone, even someone you don’t like, with a smile, then you will improve your attitude. If you dwell in your anger, then your temper will show and hurt your productivity in other areas.
Pretend to love the manipulators and abusers. Agree with your boss, compliment the petty, and navigate easily through them. You are better than the abusers, but feign submission to give them the impression that they have you. However, you must always have a plan. The goal is to navigate a terrible environment, not to settle in it.
By playing the perfect courtier, you can move through your enemies and assert power gracefully and professionally. There is no need to be direct – never answer questions fully. Be discreet – keep your thoughts to yourself. Be professional – approach everyone with a submissive and disarming personality.
By adopting these techniques, you’ll excel when defending yourself against the power-hungry.
Law 29 – Plan all the way to the end
“Think ahead.” When playing the power game defensively, it is crucial to think ahead. What do you want to do with your life? Where do you want to be in five years? What do you want to do professionally?
On a smaller scale, you have to look at the people in your workplace and life. What value does this person bring me? Based on their behaviors, attitudes, and values, can I count them as a future ally? Will this manager stop me if I try to expand and become more skilled at my job?
Additionally, we have to know where we want to go. When we understand our end goal (e.g., “how long do I want to work here?”), we can start looking at the crucial elements that can help us reach our goals (e.g., “will this person help me earn a promotion?”). These questions are essential to consider. Through journaling, we can better explore what we feel and what our end goals are.
Long-Term Thinking Protects Us
Lastly, planning ahead helps us deal with the inevitable upsets of life. For example, if you want to become a master mechanic, you’ll start working at Auto Shop A. However, your manager, Todd, is jealous of your skill and potential. Todd makes your job harder than it needs to be. So, you plan. You remember your end goal (to become a master mechanic), and you continue working on your skills. Lastly, you save money in the bank, so leaving for better waters won’t be as frightening.
Eventually, you find a job elsewhere. You give Todd three weeks notice, work those three weeks diligently, then bow out gracefully. Todd is left without his best worker, and you are free to follow your dreams.
Learn to plan and build the foundations that make it easier to be flexible.
Law 30 – Make your accomplishments seem effortless
Once again, when dealing with genuine, passionate, and interesting people, it’s okay to talk about your work schedule. However, when playing the power game defensively, you want to put on an air of ease and simplicity.
Never work too hard or look disheveled. Never put forth your work secrets or complain about how much work you’re doing. Do your job well, with a smile on your face, and make it all seem relaxed and carefree.
Keep Your Work Schedule A Secret
Additionally, it’s worth noting that once people understand your work habits, it’s easier for them to set boundaries. Say you utilize downtime at work to study a new skill. This skill may be relevant to your job and help you perform better.
However, your manager can use this study time as an object to hang over your head. Your best bet is to keep quiet, do your work, and study privately without any fanfare. When you’ve gained the skill, show off what you can do, and let your newly mastered abilities be the proof of your wisdom.
Slow down if you’re stressed and talk to your trusted allies about any struggles. But the public and the manipulators need not know your work ethic or work schedule. Let them see only the results.
Law 36 – Disdain the things you cannot have
“I don’t care.” If you can’t have it, then ignore it. Life goals and long-term goals are exceptions. However, that one lover who wants you to change everything about yourself before they will commit to you? Leave them. That promotion you can’t have because of insidious corporate politics? Start looking for a better job.
We aim to avoid people, things, and goals that take away from our values, virtues, and personal aspirations. For example, if your life goal is to be the best parent you can, then your boss’s request to work after office hours should be ignored. Spend that time with family. Ignore the promotion and focus on your primary goal of being a better parent.
Consume Less | Want Less
Being in a stable place allows one to ignore various desires. If you have money saved, a stable relationship, and time to improve yourself, then pointless knick-knacks won’t entice you. Therefore, love what life has to offer and reject everything designed to steal your peace of mind.
Law 40 – Despise the free lunch
Have you ever felt obligated to someone after they gave you a gift? Many manipulators utilize gifts to make individuals feel indebted. Therefore, I always urge you to avoid the free lunch.
Nothing is free. If a friend buys your lunch, they value your friendship, your virtues, and your values more than the money they spent on lunch. The lunch was not free – you indirectly paid for the lunch by being a good person your friend wants to take care of. If it’s a healthy relationship, you will appreciate them and see their payment as an investment in your relationship.
However, when dealing with manipulators, you’re more likely to feel guilty when they buy something for you. Your mind will feel a desire to “pay them back” even if it was a gift you never asked for.
You’ll feel attached to the gift, and the manipulators will use this attachment to extract favors and money. Even when you should say no to a request of theirs, you’ll feel obligated to help anyway if only to assuage your conscious.
Take the woman who feels compelled to go on a date with a co-worker because he’s bought her lunch a few times. She may not like him and would normally say no, but she feels she owes him because he’s “been so generous.” Or, take the parent who extorts money from his adult child. He justifies such exploitation by arguing, “I fed and raised you for 18 years.” The adult child feels guilt and lends the money instead of pushing back.
The best way to defend yourself against such manipulations starts with simply rejecting gifts from those who are untrustworthy. The second technique is to continue to say no to requests you are uncomfortable with. Remember, you are being manipulated, and this reminder will force your righteous anger to overtake any feelings of guilt.
Law 48 – Assume Formlessness
“Be flexible.” We all have set values and virtues we should consistently hold to. The ten virtues, our long-term and life goals, and the legacy we wish to leave behind should always be adhered to and never changed on a whim. However, our employment or the relationships we have with associates should be treated as temporary.
Let’s take a job. No matter where one works, it is entirely possible to watch your employment opportunities shrink or be undermined. You can be demoted because of petty office drama or fired because of a shift in the economy. To counteract these events, you should be “formless” by continually studying and seeking to improve yourself. This way, if you lose your job, you are free to pursue other opportunities.
Another example: if you’re dating someone, but they are shady or unreliable, then drop them and move on. If you continue to be a virtuous, interesting, and caring person, you won’t have to settle. You can always find someone new who truly cares for you.
In conclusion: never rely on one source of income. Save money and prepare for a rainy day. Constantly test your relationships and push yourself to be a better person. Be willing to adjust your short-term goals but never your life goals.
Life is full of upsets and inconsistencies. Be like water, and you can adapt to the worst life has to throw at you.
The defensive laws are excellent for protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your resources. All these laws are about being reactive in a stable and mature way.
Power-hungry people are always focused on undermining your abilities and potential. Being upfront and direct with dishonest and manipulative people is not the way to go. On the other hand, when we fail to acknowledge evil, we become easier to destroy.
The best solution is to keep your guard up and utilize the power you have as an individual to protect yourself from the machinations of others.
Next week, we’re going to cover the importance of avoiding power lust.
- Which law do you utilize the most? Why do you utilize it so often?
- Which law do you utilize the least? In your opinion, is this a good or bad thing?
- Which law would you like to utilize more? How do you think you can better use the law?
Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
*Image credit to Unsplash.