Notes Psychology

Law 36: Disdain the things you cannot have: ignoring them is the best revenge (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 36: Disdain the things you cannot have: ignoring them is the best revenge

Sour grapes
Sour grapes

You should never make it apparent that you have been unable to attain something that you want. It is much wiser to treat what you secretly want with disdain, as this will bring it closer to you.

The Fox and the Grapes

A starving fox … saw a cluster Of luscious-looking grapes of purplish luster Dangling above him on a trellis-frame. He would have dearly liked them for his lunch, But when he tried and failed to reach the bunch: “Ah well, it’s more than likely they’re not sweet—Good only for green fools to eat!” Wasn’t he wise to say they were unripe Rather than whine and gripe?


Sometimes, paying attention to what you don’t have can make you lose sight of what you do have. And sometimes, paying attention to a minor convenience could lead to large scale disaster. This is what happened with the U.S when they went after Pancho Villa. Pancho Villa was a bandit revolutionary who had a hot and cold relationship with his people. Sometimes, they loved him when he displayed his revolutionary character and his charm. And at other times, they despised him for being nothing more than a common bandit. In 1914, Pancho Villa led a raid in Columbus, New Mexico.

Just think—it cost your government $130 million to try to get me. I took them over rough, hilly country. Sometimes for fifty miles at a stretch they had no water. They had nothing but the sun and mosquitoes…. And nothing was gained.

Pancho Villa, 1878-1923

The raid led to the deaths of 17 soldiers and civilians. Woodrow Wilson, the U.S president at the time, was forced to act. He launched the Punitive Expedition. Led by Pershing, a decorated General, the hunt slowly withered and eventually died out 3 years later in 1917. Pancho Villa led the men over difficult terrains and managed to exhaust his pursuers. Greene suggests that this situation could have been dealt with better had Wilson pursued a different strategy. The hunt against Villa only strengthened his support in his own country for defying the U.S. Had Pancho been left to his own devices, he would have eventually been overthrown by his own people. Instead, what resulted was an embarrassing chase that amounted to wasted resources and nothing to show in return.

As some make gossip out of everything, so others make much ado about everything. They are always talking big, [and] take everything seriously, making a quarrel and a mystery of it. You should take very few grievances to heart, for to do so is to give yourself groundless worry. It is a topsyturvy way of behaving to take to heart cares which you ought to throw over your shoulder. Many things which seemed important [at the time] turn out to be of no account when they are ignored; and others, which seem trifling, appear formidable when you pay attention to them. Things can easily be settled at the outset, but not so later on. In many cases, the remedy itself is the cause of the disease: to let things be is not the least satisfactory of life’s rules.


Desire is often self-defeating. The more you want something, the more you commit energy to it, the more it eludes you. People will feel awkward and afraid if you approach them too strongly. Lacking self-control makes you look weak and pathetic. The solution is to show disdain. Turn your back on what you want. The person you are pursuing will either want to possess you or get revenge on you. In either case, you have managed to successfully engage their emotions. And in the first case, you have succeeded in seducing them.

The Man and his Shadow

There was a certain original man who desired to catch his own shadow. He makes a step or two toward it, but it moves away from him. He quickens his pace; it does the same. At last he takes to running; but the quicker he goes, the quicker runs the shadow also, utterly refusing to give itself up, just as if it had been a treasure. But see! our eccentric friend suddenly turns round, and walks away from it. And presently he looks behind him; now the shadow runs after him. Ladies fair, I have often observed… that Fortune treats us in a similar way. One man tries with all his might to seize the goddess, and only loses his time and his trouble. Another seems, to all appearance, to be running out of her sight; but, no: she herself takes a pleasure in pursuing him.


The sour-grapes approach is when you act as if what you are unable to attain never interested you in the first place. It is often seen as a weak tactic, but it is a tactic of the powerful. There is a second line of defense. If someone attacks you verbally, deflect attention and act as if nothing has registered. The worst thing you can do is to become emotional.

The Monkey and the Peas

A monkey was carrying two handfuls of peas. One little pea dropped out. He tried to pick it up, and spilt twenty. He tried to pick up the twenty, and spilt them all. Then he lost his temper, scattered the peas in all directions, and ran away.


You should learn how to discern between big and small problems. Take care of problems when they are still small before they become unsolvable. But sometimes, it is best to leave something alone and it will take care of itself. You should have an eye for what could potentially develop into a disaster if left alone, and what could spiral out of control, if excessively attended to.

And in this view it is advisable to let everyone of your acquaintance—whether man or woman—feel now and then that you could very well dispense with their company. This will consolidate friendship. Nay, with most people there will be no harm in occasionally mixing a grain of disdain with your treatment of them; that will make them value your friendship all the more. Chi non stima vien stimato, as a subtle Italian proverb has it—to disregard is to win regard. But if we really think very highly of a person, we should conceal it from him like a crime. This is not a very gratifying thing to do, but it is right. Why, a dog will not bear being treated too kindly, let alone a man!


Read The 48 Laws of Power

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.