I recently read Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power and have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I hated what Robert Greene was encouraging us to pick up on, while on the other hand, I could see where these tactics are the only ones that will guarantee your success.
I wasn’t comfortable reading the book, but if we are talking about the top ten books that I hate, then it doesn’t make an appearance there. 50 Shades of Grey reigns supreme in that arena because it’s a literary disaster. I couldn’t make it past the first page because my eyes started bleeding, but it did shed some light on the nature of women, but that is a topic for another day.
Work Hard, Play Hard is Not The Full Story
Robert Greene’s book accurately explains how human beings attain heights of power using historical examples to drive his point home. I wanted to believe that hard work and due diligence alone will suffice, but I was ignorant of the fact that the court of power doesn’t operate on rules of fairness; it does so on a person’s ability to manipulate, showcase and exploit.
This revelation, is what I hated. It destroyed my fantasy of work hard, play hard to succeed. I believed hard work alone would get you places, but the formula for success was missing a vital variable – a variable people are hesitant to take into consideration because of the implications of adopting what we were taught are vices.
That is not to say that hard work is foolish, but that it is foolish to assume your superiors will empower you for merely outperforming the others. You are beneath them, and they will make sure it remains that way.
It’s through hard work that we internalize most of what we experience, and turn that experience into wisdom and expertise. The more tasks you accomplish, the better you get at resolving them, and the more shortcuts you find. Hard work is important, but that alone won’t get you anywhere.
Your masters might shower you with praises, but that is to motivate you to keep performing. A manager isn’t going to give away his position to you because he believes you have what it takes to take up the position. If he believes you are competent enough to replace him, he will view you as a threat to be dealt with immediately.
There is an added Machiavellian element we have to take into consideration.
The Laws Point to a Universal Truth
What separates us from animals is the ability to lie and deceive.
It’s not that we are smart, but that we are cunning as well. We are where we are, thanks to our capacity to lie and deceive.
Galileo become the court’s official philosopher and mathematician not because of his intelligence, but because he was smart enough to phrase his discovery of Jupiter’s moons in such a way that it impressed the king. He knew what he had to say to fall into the king’s graces, and that elevated him out of poverty.
That breed of intelligence is called cunningness, and we are taught to avoid adopting it because it is only a person absent of virtue who resorts to such methods.
But here’s the problem, nearly everyone present in top levels of management, or who occupy positions of authority have varying degrees of cunningness. The ones who run the show are cunning wolves, whether they be politicians or executives of major firms.
They had to develop, hone and use their cunning to make it to the top. Those at the top are shrewd individuals who have participated in the game and emerged victorious.
Back to Why I Hated It
I hated it because it was true.
The people who brought ruin to my family were incredibly cunning. They were so cunning that they were able to recruit good, well-meaning people to their side. Only the ones on the receiving end (yours truly) were able to see them for what they were.
But after some introspection, it was made clear that only a weak parent allows others to interfere in their private matters, which is a topic for another day, but nonetheless, I saw just how potent those tactics were, as it performed a brilliant job of luring people on the outside to their side.
I was seeing all of this happen around me, and hated them for it. I didn’t want to treat people that way, but it became evident that in order to get ahead I had to apply the same principles.
The Dark Side
Reading the book only drove that fact home.
You can’t fight off a mutt using a piece of chicken leg. If you refuse to bite back, then say goodbye to you chicken leg.
There are lots of people out there thinking that they can make it by swinging their chicken leg about to ward off predators, like it were an axe, not realizing that it’s that very chicken leg that brought him there.
Everyone likes a sucker, and won’t hesitate to clamp down on one the moment they get a chance to, which is why it is better to be aware of the rules so that you can at the very least, avoid getting snared into it.
Maybe you don’t want to play the game, but realize this, we are a part of this game as much as we are a part of this world. Hate the game, but don’t hate the player. They learnt the game, and found a way to use it to their advantage.
There is no escape from it, and many are using those very tactics to get ahead. Not everyone has read 48 Laws of Power because they are under the illusion that reading is a waste of time.
Some tactics make sense – no one has to tell you about it since its understood. It’s like an unspoken rule that requires no prior introduction.
No one teaches you to behave properly in front of someone holding power over you. You automatically behave and have a degree of fear when present in his vicinity.
You hate your boss because you are afraid of him. He has the power to cut you off the moment you step out of line, and that is why you hate him – it’s because you know he can ruin your career effortlessly.
Most of these are naturally understood, but some aren’t.
There are some insights that come with experience and are often counter intuitive or seem insignificant at first, but hold a lot of significance, which is why I believe it is a duty for everyone, man or woman, to develop a habit of reading.
Lets look at few examples.
Law 2 – Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies
We trust friends and loved ones, and distrust enemies for the plain and simple fact that they are our enemies.
Who in their right mind would put their trust in an enemy?
Those cunning enough to understand how the mind works.
A friend knows your weaknesses and won’t hesitate to use them against you. That statement alone might have got you howling at the screen but keep reading, and I’ll show you how it makes sense.
Anytime you try to invite major changes into your life, the ones that hold you back the most will be your friends.
They want you to remain the same, because that’s the person they can easily relate with. Once you progress, you start to move away from them, as you start devoting time to sharpening and perfecting your craft.
Say you’ve always dreamed of becoming a musician, at first your friends will be incredibly supportive, but the moment you start cutting down on the time you usually spend with them and devote it to practice, that’s when they will prod you to not take your “passion” too seriously. They will recite sob stories of their cousins or uncles or someone they found online, who tried to break into the industry, but failed to do so, and use these sob stories to insist you not to take it so seriously.
If you ignore their incessant whining like you should, you slowly transform into the group’s black sheep. They will stop calling you and spread crap about you and your dreams of wanting to become a musician. With every milestone you cover, the distance that separates you from them only increases.
What fills those gaps you ask?
Seething Hot Jealousy.
And once you make it, you will never hear from them again, because you’d have reached a new social strata – one thats inaccessible to them.
Most of the friends you have today are content with the way things are, and as nice as that may sound, putting yourself in a crowd like that won’t help you progress.
I’m not saying your friends are pieces of trash that ought to be avoided, but that moving away from them is inevitable, when you are progressing towards something much bigger than yourself.
Big dreams foster solitude, not happiness.
On a similar note, power provides you with control, not contentment.
Another Reason why You Can’t Trust Friends
You can’t ask your friends for proof of their loyalty.
It would never cross your mind to ask for such a thing and they’d take offense if you asked for one, whereas an enemy has everything to prove and will expect you to ask for his proof of loyalty.
Work gets done quickly when you decide to partner up with an enemy. It will throw him off that you are willing to work besides him. He doesn’t trust you, and you don’t trust him, so both sides are only concerned with what is in it for the respective sides.
You have the freedom to be direct in your interactions with an enemy because both sides are striving towards a similar goal and are only shaking hands temporarily.
They dealings are surprisingly honest, because of the nature of the relationship.
Lets take another example,
Law 5 – So Much Depends On Reputation – Guard it With Your Life
Few actually understand the weight of that statement.
People who engage in promiscuous behaviour claim that doing so doesn’t tarnish their reputation because YOLO, like as if that acronym justifies anything. They don’t care what others think, and believe that by projecting such an image they can escape from the repercussions of their actions.
What they fail to realize that doing so is an attempt to build reputation. – one that will allow them to get away with anything.
Reputation is everything.
It is what grants you access into areas that are closed off to most – areas of influences that provide you with the opportunity to live in safe neighbourhoods, have your kids admitted into top schools and universities, and ensure a safe and fruitful life for you and your family.
Some are content with portraying themselves as progressive saints who are on a mission to educate us miscreants on how to treat others, what words are okay, what are not, and who to believe, support and associate with. This is the reputation the are trying to cultivate; the kind that shows the world that they are good people on a social crusade against the baddies from the patriarchy department.
Reputation isn’t built overnight, it requires massive investment. You can’t buy it off the market, it is Earned.
Don’t Get It Twisted
This doesn’t mean we should avoid cultivating meaningful relationships, and focus solely on building reputation to get ahead, but that we ought to understand the motives that lay hidden in the undercurrents of psychological warfare.
These tactics have a time and place for execution, and refusing to rely on them when the situation demands of it, will result in your downfall. It is difficult to adopt this frame of mind, since we were brought up to believe that the world is filled with good and evil, and that we ought to stick to the good side to lead a peaceful life.
Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, but not so bad that it corrupts you.
The Problem With Power
Overindulging in power only invites misery because power corrupts. The more power you end up with, the larger your appetite grows, for such is the nature of greed.
Too less power also invites misery since you are a slave without it. Its your job to strike a balance; an ability that will take an entire lifetime to master.
If you plan on making use of these psychological tactics then remember to use them judiciously. Overuse them and you risk getting exposed and dragged into a bloody battle that will not only tarnish your reputation but also jeopardize the lives of those that aren’t involved such as your family, friends and children.
You also have the option of staying on the sides and avoid getting snared into their games, but as long as you are aware of these laws and see where they can be applied, it won’t be long before you decide to take part.
Our Greatest Weakness
Cunningness is our greatest strength, but also our greatest weakness since it narrows our vision to accommodate only our interests.
This book teaches you to acquire and accumulate power, not how to handle it. Power is a drug that provides your ego with an addictive high and inflates it without restraint. It’s a double-edged sword, but one worth wielding if you approach it with caution.
Overall, 48 Laws of Power is worth reading.
I am glad that I exposed myself to it, and I will keep coming back to it, to mine more insights from it.