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Moral Critique of Law #12: The 48 Laws of Power

Updated on January 25, 2014

I read the book The 48 Laws of Power out of a curiosity and a hunger for something greater for myself. What I found was a book that could be seen as ruthless and manipulative in it's principles. I have decided to write a series of critiques of each of the laws. I will discuss the good and the bad of the law as well as a key that I've found to upholding the law without losing your morality.

Now, I will discuss Law #12.

Law #12. Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim.

"One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can decieve and manipulate them at will. A timely gift - a Trojan Horse - will serve the same purpose."

-Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

The Good

Honesty has always been known as "the best policy". Not just for moral reasons, but because it is a tool. When you show people that you are honest, they tend to trust you with greater benefitss and responsibilities which are key to the quest for power. When you can show someone that you can be trusted, they will let you into their inner circle, they will give you the keys to the city. That's why most jobs do background checks on you and we have security clearances for high stakes jobs. Trust is crucial to what makes our democracy effective.

Generosity, also, ingratiates you to people. It makes them feel like you care about them and that you wish them well. When you offer a kind work, a gift or a timely greeting card, people take notice and they appreciate these things as signs that you consider them a friend. They begin to trust you and feel comfortable being open with you.

Being selective with honesty and generosity, however, means choosing what information or gifts you willfully share, when you share it and with whom.

  • Timeliness: Being timely with acts of kindness can open doors for you. If you give someone a hug and a kind word everyday, they begin to take for granted that you will always give them hugs and compliments whether or not you need it. However, if you are cordial with a person regularly, but then give them a hug and a kind word when (for example) they were in a car crash, or were bullied, they will appreciate you not only for the act itself, but for the appropriate nature of it. It will feel special to them, because it is not something they necessarily expected.
  • Type selection: Being selective about what gift or information you share with a person can also be crucial to ingratiating yourself to them. For instance, if you share all of your personal life with your co-workers they may lose respect for you, even if you're not doing anything they wouldn't do. Also, if you talk to them too much about other people at work, they may see you as a gossip. However, if you talk to them about what is important and/or you give them a useful piece of information, they will have greater respect for you as a person and as a colleague!
  • Person selection: Deciding who you share information with is sometimes intuitive. Just ask yourself: "Is sharing this information mutually beneficial to me and this person I'm considering sharing it with? and Will it ultimately help bring me closer to my goal?" Sometimes, what you're telling a person does not benefit them in any way. You may just being talking to the person to get something off of your chest. Unless, the person you are talking to is your therapist or your relative (and even your relative is "if-y"), then you probably shouldn't be "dumping on" them. Trivial talk, just for the sake of talking can be a burden to others. Sometimes it feels like you want to talk to take away the awkward tension in the air. If you are in this position with a person, try escaping before you say something you regret. Escaping may mean reading a book, falling asleep (or pretending to do so if you are on a long bus or plane ride) or just walking away. Over-sharing is not only embarrassing, it can be a burden to the receiver. So, don't do it!

"It is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt..."

However, if you are appropriately selective about how you share gifts and information, people may feel indebted to you and may even repay you "tit for tat" and maybe even depending on how useful your offer is, they may feel forever indebted to you and you may have a lifelong ally.

The Bad

Unfortunately, some may use this law as a means to use honesty as a tool to get away with dishonesty. This law is morally deficient in that to some it encourages people to weasle their way through life playing the game of "two truths and a lie". When you're only telling the truth to manipulate people or telling half-truths, you are not truly being sincere and often times people can see through that and will lose faith in you. That is the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. Furthermore, once you cash in your "truth chips" in a big way with some big deceptive scheme, you can no longer play that game again.

The Key

The key to upholding this law without losing your morality is to take it with a grain of salt. See the benefits of being honest and just maintain an honest and sincere personage. Don't make your goal to take advantage of people, but to work honestly with others. However, there is no need to tell everybody everything about yourself. Maintain people's trust by being honest and sincere when confronted, but don't make it a habit to share all your most intimate and personal details about your life. Therefore, being selective with your honesty is still important. However, it is not essential to follow it up with a huge deceit.

Have you read The 48 Laws of Power? What did you think about Law #12?

You can probably get this book on for less than $15 or bid on it on eBay, but read it with a compassionate heart and watch the Laws of Power work magic in your business, relationship and life! Then, join the conversation in the comment box below!


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