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Law 13: When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 13 – When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude

Castruccio Castracani
Castruccio Castracani

People are generally motivated by their self-interest – and that is what you must appeal to if you want something from them. Trying to bring up the past and inducing feelings of guilt in them are strategies that will inevitably backfire.

Castruccio Castracani was a solider who became lord of a great city in Italy called Lucca. The Poggios were a powerful family in the city, and through treachery and bloodshed, helped Castracani ascend to the top.

But they felt that Castracani had forgotten about them while he was in power. The Poggios rebelled against him by conspiring with other noble families in the city. But one man, Stefano Poggio, didn’t take part in the coup. He was a peaceful man and believed that the war would only lead to pointless deaths.

He decided to visit Castracani on his family’s behalf. And when he met with the prince, he reminded him of all the favors his family had done for him in the past, that they were instrumental in his rise to power. Castracani patiently listened and told him not to worry – that justice would be served.

Castracani asked Stefano to bring his family so that they could all have a fruitful conversation. That night, Stefano and the rest of the Poggios arrived to see the prince. Castracani had them all arrested, and within a few days, they were all killed, including Stefano.

This is an example of a transgression against the law. Greene tells us that Stefano had an array of better strategies to choose from, instead he opted for the worst one. He could have offered Castracani money, or made promises for the future, or even help broker a marriage with one of the other noble families of Rome – since they had influence there.

Most men are so thoroughly subjective that nothing really interests them but themselves. They always think of their own case as soon as ever any remark is made, and their whole attention is engrossed and absorbed by the merest chance reference to anything which affects them personally, be it never so remote.

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER, 1788-1860

The following example contrasts two approaches, the first that appeals to the other party’s self-interest, and the second that appeals to their feelings of guilt. Right before the Peloponnesian War, the island of Corcyra and the Greek city-state Corinth were on the brink of conflict in 433 B.C. The key to victory was getting Athens on their side. Corinth had an old history with Athens, having done many favors for them in the past, and shared values. But Corcyra had no relationship at all with Athens, and no history.

A representative of each state approached the Athenians to give them their plea for help. The representative form Corcyra was frank and concise. He admitted to the lack of shared history between his state and Athens but maintained that they had the second most powerful naval forces to the Athenians. He argued that by allying with each other, they would become a formidable force that no one would be able to stop.

The representative from Corinth gave a long, majestic speech about the great history between Corinth and Athens. He spoke of the favors his city has done for the Athenians in the past and talked about how bad it would look if Athens decided to side against them – thus appealing to their guilt. The Athenians deliberated amongst themselves, and after a second round of discussions, opted to turn their back on Corinth and ally themselves with Corcyra.

Greene, however, notes that in some cases, it is better to appeal to someone’s sense of charity rather than their greed. You are required to figure out what type of person you are dealing with. If they want to be charitable and take pleasure in helping you for whatever reason (vanity, ego, pride), then you should not appeal to their greed. If, on the other hand, they do not care about appearing charitable, and only care about self-interest, then you should appeal to their greed, not their charity.

Read The 48 Laws of Power

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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