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Law 20: Do Not Commit to Anyone (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 20: Do Not Commit to Anyone

Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger

Do not commit yourself to anybody or anything, for that is to be a slave, a slave to every man…. Above all, keep yourself free of commitments and obligations—they are the device of another to get you into his power….

– Baltasar Gracián

Instead of committing to someone, you should keep your options open. This isn’t the same as putting people off. You need to feign commitment, but never trap yourself. People will be lured by the prospect of having and will compete to earn your loyalty. If you are quick to jump on one side or another, you will be underappreciated and overburdened.

Alcibiades, the Greek Soldier and statesman, was an expert at this game. He inspired the Athenian armada that invaded Sicily in 414 B.C. And when envious Athenians in Greece tried to take him down by charging him, he fled to the enemy, the Spartans, and avoided facing trial at home. And when the Athenians were defeated at Syracuse, he left Sparta for Persia even though the Spartans were buoyed by their victory.

But now the Athenians and Spartans courted Alcibiades because of his affiliation with the Persians. And he was showered with honors by the Persians because of his influence over the Athenians and Spartans. By never sticking to one side, Alcibiades was able to win favor with everyone. He made many promises to all sides, but kept none, and always held all the cards.

In 1968, during the U.S presidential elections, Henry Kissinger offered valuable information on the Vietnam peace negotiations that were taking place in Paris, after leaving his alliance with Nelson Rockefeller. He then approached Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, and offered his assistance. Humphrey and his team demanded inside information on Nixon, and Kissinger told them,  “I’ve hated Nixon for years.”

He had loyalties to no one. What he wanted was a high-level cabinet post from either Nixon or Humphrey. He stood to win, no matter who won the election. Nixon eventually won and Kissinger got the cabinet post he coveted.

It is often the case that people who are quick to support one side or another gain little respect by doing so, because their assistance was too easy to get. But those who reserve their loyalties are rewarded by all parties – their aloofness brings them power and influence.

Read The 48 Laws of Power

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

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