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How the laws of power have been used throughout history (48 Laws)

Power is a word that has a negative connotation attached to it, and rightfully so. Power is something that can easily be abused and often is. Absolute power corrupts absolutely is the phrase that instantly comes to mind. But this is only partly true. How the power is used is wholly dependent on the individual who yields it. A good and moral person with power can make the world a much better place, look at Theodore Roosevelt for example, a president who wasn’t corrupt and only let his sense of what was morally right guide him. However, you also have those who do become corrupted by power. They are the ones who bring about the world's destruction. Look at all the corrupt politicians who get into politics, not to help the people and improve their country, but simply to improve their own lives. It is important to understand that power is a neutral force and that it can be used for both good and bad. Therefore we will discuss some of the most important laws of power here, both so that you know how to use them, which you should use for good, and so that you can see when bad people are abusing their powers. Here they are:

Learn to keep people dependent on you.

In the time of the Middle Ages, there was a mercenary soldier (condottiere), who saved the Italian town of Siena from a foreign aggressor. The mercenary fought bravely and was seen as a hero throughout the town. But despite his act of heroism, and despite his proven ability to defend the city, he was sentenced to death. However odd it may appear to kill the man who saved your town, the reason was quite logical: he was replaceable. He may have been very heroic and brave, but the problem was that there were dozens of other mercenaries who were as brave and as heroic and had the same capabilities as he who could take his place. They wanted to get rid of the condottiere because they were afraid of the power he would hold if he were to be seen as a hero. He could have some serious influence in the town if that would be the case. The other men had the same capabilities as him, but didn’t pose the same threat. His power threatened them, but because he was replaceable, nothing was lost by getting rid of him.

The amount of power you hold is always dependent on your uniqueness. Do you have something that others do not have? The reason only select individuals have power, is because they aren’t like everyone else. They have something that sets them apart from the crowd. They have certain skills that no one else has developed as highly as they have, maybe they have a unique combination of skills and experience that makes them incomparable to their competition. The point is that if you want power, you have to become irreplaceable, and to do this you need to have a unique set of skills that people want or need. Everybody always thinks in terms of what's in it for me. They think about what they can get out of you, and if they can get more out of someone else, they will get someone else. But if they believe that when they get rid of you it will be impossible to replace you, they will think twice about doing so. When you are so good at something, or have such a unique combination of skills that there is no one else like you, you become irreplaceable. This can even give you leverage in a job or business, giving you all the power. You can tell your boss to up your salary, because he knows that if you leave he will be in a whole lot of trouble finding a replacement.

This condottiere didn’t understand this fact. He was replaceable. When one of the condottieres committed an act of heroism and was consequently loved by the public, he became dangerous. Having the public like you gives you influence, and the last thing those in power want is a mercenary who has influence over their people. So because they were replaceable, the obvious solution was to just get rid of them and put a new one in his place. If the mercenary had been unique and incomparable to any other, he would still be a danger because of his influence, but those in power would have to weigh the negatives of getting rid of him and the positives of keeping him. Is it worth it to get rid of this man who can defend our city in time of need? What if we can’t find a replacement with his skillset? This would have given the condottiere much more power and would have probably saved his life.

Become unique, acquire skills that no one else has or are very rare to find, become better than anyone else at a particular skill, or acquire a unique combination of skills that make you irreplaceable. Either one of these will give you immense power and influence over others, and having none of them will surely give you none.

Always say less than necessary

King Lous XIV was the king of France from 1643 until he died in 1715, a period of turmoil in which France fought multiple wars against other European superpowers. But the French monarch had a very different way of dealing with matters than most people in power. When his servants came to discuss issues with him, about war, politics, or the state in general, he kept silent for most if not the entire conversation. He let others do the talking, and by doing so he got to know a lot about the subject itself and the opinions of his people. Besides this it also had another effect: it made the opinions that his servants gave him more honest. This was crucial, because especially in those days, people didn’t want to tell the King what they really thought, they wanted to say what would please the him, so that they would be in his good graces. By keeping his own mouth shut he gave them no information to base their opinions on and so they had to tell him what they really thought. Another effect his silence had on his servants was that it provided them with fear because it made him unpredictable. They never knew what he thought until he showed it through his actions and his decisions. He never let it be known beforehand and therefore made it difficult to guess when or when they had not pleased the king. Lastly, it made the King's word much more valuable. Because his words were so scarce, what he said looked much more valuable, because if he found it worthy to say it, it must have been important. So when he opened his mouth, people listened, because they knew that if he said something, it was important.

Most people often have trouble keeping their mouth shut. Everyone likes to talk, especially about themselves. But saying too much is something that will instantly reduce your power. This has multiple reasons. Firstly, the more you say, the higher the chance that you say something stupid. When you talk a lot, it means you are not really selective with what you do and do not say, and often just spit out what you’re thinking at that moment without delay. It means you’re not carefully thinking through what you’re saying, and this is a recipe for making mistakes. Saying what you think all the time and not carefully choosing your words will make you say stupid things all the time. We all think stupid thoughts that we shouldn’t say, but we try to filter these thoughts out so that we do not release them to the world. Saying less will make you more selective with your speech and therefore decrease the likelihood of you saying something stupid.

The second way saying less will give you more power is by making you less predictable. If you talk a lot, you give others a lot of information about you. This makes you less mysterious and more predictable, and people who are predictable hold no power because everyone can guess their next moves. Saying less will therefore make you more mysterious. Because people don’t have much information about you, they don’t know your opinions, and they don’t know who you are and what you’ve done, you become more unpredictable. The servants of King Louis never knew what his opinion was before he acted upon it. This made him unpredictable and gave him the power to do what he wanted. People also love mysteries. In fact they can’t stand not knowing something, and therefore when they don’t know anything about you, they can’t wait to find out. This makes people much more interested in you when you talk, and gives you the upper hand in any conversation.

When something is scarce, it is more valuable, and so when you talk less, what you say is valued more highly. The less you say, the more power you will have.

Think as you like but behave like others

There was a time in Spain when not being a Catholic was seen as a crime. So when they found out Campanella didn’t ascribe to Catholicism, he had to be punished. For his crime he was locked up in prison, which would after a while likely end up in a death sentence. The only way to get out alive was to show the Spaniards that he was in fact a catholic, but the problem was that he wasn’t. So to get around this, he needed to make it seem like he was. He decided to write a book, which centered around Spain's divine mission to expand its empire all over the world. This book seemed to imply that he was actually a Catholic, and as a result of this book, Campanella was released. Because he made it seem like he believed what everyone else believed, or what everyone expected him to believe, he made it out of his cell, even though he was still a protestant.

It is not a good idea to speak your mind about everything all the time, and inherently everybody knows this. Humans are born actors, we act all the time and we adjust our act based on who we have in front of us. You don’t act the same around everyone else, and thank god for that, because if you did, no one would like you. Everybody is different, and this means that everyone needs to be treated in a different way to get optimal results. You’re not going to talk the same way to a police officer as you would to your best friend. Based on who your audience is, you adjust what you say and how you say it.

It is important to understand that everyone is different and that not everyone thinks the same way you do. Because of this, you have to approach each person differently, and to do this you have to put on a mask. This mask is the version of you that you want to portray to that person. You have a different mask for each occasion, for your friends, for your family, for strangers. But to get as much power as possible, you need to make the mask you’re putting on as effective as possible. You can think what you want, but you need to behave like others. It is of no use to spout out your opinions to someone who doesn’t care, or even someone who has a totally different point of view. Most of the time these people and their opinions don’t matter and you’re not going to convince them anyway, so what you can do is to just let go of your own opinions and create the perception that you believe in the same things the other person does. You don’t have to lie for this, and you don’t have to shut your mouth entirely. Just go with that person, don’t speak up about your opinions too much, and remain vague and mysterious. Show the other person that you may agree with their opinion or at least show that you do not disagree.

Another reason for behaving like others is because you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb. If you are too much of an outcast, people may see you as weird, and this will hinder your ability to influence others. People are however easily influenced by people who are similar to them. If you show them that you are the same as they are, by behaving the same way they do regardless of what you may think or believe, they will like you more, see you as less of a threat, and as a result, will grant you more power over them. Become part of the herd, act and talk like them, and pull your strings behind the scenes.



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