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Law 39: Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 39: Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish

A monkey, whilst munching a ripe pear, was pestered by the bare-faced importunities of a wasp, who, nolens volens, would have a part. After threatening the monkey with his anger if he further hesitated to submit to his demand, he settled on the fruit; but was as soon knocked off by the monkey. The irritable wasp now had recourse to invective —and, after using the most insulting language, which the other calmly listened to, he so worked himself up into violent passion that, losing all consideration of the penalty, he flew to the face of the monkey, and stung him with such rage that he was unable to extricate his weapon, and was compelled to tear himself away, leaving it in the wound—thus entailing on himself a lingering death, accompanied by pains much greater than those he had inflicted.

Fables, Jonathan Birch

Angry people often end up looking ridiculous. Their out of proportion response does not give the impression that they are in power even though they may comically believe so. This doesn’t mean that you should repress your emotions for this may carry with it dangerous repercussions to your psychological health, but you should alter your perspective on reality. Remind yourself why people behave they do.

When someone has an outburst against you, it is not only because of you, but because of thousands of factors that are beyond both of your control. They are controlled by their biology, social environment, and the random series of events they have experienced in the past. You shouldn’t take anything personally. While they lose their head, keep yours.

It is rarely wise to react with anger. Keep your cool and take control of your enemies who are plagued by their vanity and emotions. Anger or hatred should never be shown otherwise than in what you do; and feelings will be all the more effective in action. in so far as you avoid the exhibition of them in any other way. It is only the cold-blooded animals whose bite is poisonous.

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER

In 1809, Napoleon was experiencing a difficult period. And in the eyes of Talleyrand, his ambitions were threatening the peace of Europe. Napoleon had recently returned from his war with Spain angry and irritated after he had heard that Talleyrand and Fouche were conspiring against him.

The shocked Napoleon summoned his ministers and engaged in a tirade about how everything was going on against him, including his own ministers. But when Napoleon looked Talleyrand in the eye while he spoke, the latter didn’t budge, calmly smiling at the French general. This angered Napoleon even more until he finally burst out at him.

“You are a coward,” he screamed in Talleyrand’s face, “a man of no faith. Nothing is sacred to you. You would sell your own father. I have showered you with riches and yet there is nothing you would not do to hurt me.” The other ministers looked at each other in disbelief—they had never seen this fearless general, the conqueror of most of Europe, so unhinged.“You deserve to be broken like glass,” Napoleon continued, stamping.

“I have the power to do it, but I have too much contempt for you to bother. Why didn’t I have you hanged from the gates of the Tuileries? But there is still time for that.” Yelling, almost out of breath, his face red, his eyes bulging, he went on, “You, by the way, are nothing but shit in a silk stocking…. What about your “You deserve to be broken like glass,” Napoleon continued, stamping. “I have the power to do it, but I have too much contempt for you to bother. Why didn’t I have you hanged from the gates of the Tuileries? But there is still time for that.” Yelling, almost out of breath, his face red, his eyes bulging, he went on, “You, by the way, are nothing but shit in a silk stocking…. What about your wife? You never told me that San Carlos was your wife’s lover?” “Indeed, sire, it did not occur to me that this information had any bearing on Your Majesty’s glory or my own,” said Talleyrand calmly, completely unflustered.

After a few more insults, Napoleon walked away. Talleyrand slowly crossed the room, moving with his characteristic limp. As an attendant helped him with his cloak, he turned to his fellow ministers (all afraid they would never see him again), and said, “What a pity, gentlemen, that so great a man should have such bad manners.”

The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene

Napoleon didn’t arrest his minister despite everything. But after a few days passed, it became clear to everyone that Napoleon was not in control of himself. His leadership was greatly undermined. This was Talleyrand’s plan. He and Fouche were highly practical men, and their plot against Napoleon would have been shrouded in secrecy had they wanted. But Talleyrand wanted to stir the pot, he wanted to push Napoleon to the edge and show the other ministers how unreliable their leader was. By remaining calm and unfazed, Talleyrand demonstrated his superiority.

If your opponent is of a hot temper, try to irritate him. If he is arrogant, try to encourage his egotism…. One who is skilled at making the enemy move does so by creating a situation according to which the enemy will act; he entices the enemy with something he is certain to take. He keeps the enemy on the move by holding out bait and then attacks him with picked troops.

Sun-tzu

It’s not always a good idea to rattle people. The leaders of the Tyre, the ancient Phoenician city were confident they could stand up to Alexander the Great. They sent ambassadors to him to tell him that they would accept him as emperor but would not allow his forced to enter their city. This enraged him and led to a siege that lasted for four months.

The Phoenicians stood their ground and Alexander decided to abandon the mission because it was no longer worth it. But the Tyrians, buoyed by their victory, tempted fate once again. They killed Alexander’s messengers and refused to negotiate, thinking they had won the war. This infuriated Alexander, who now focused all his resources to defeating the city. He finally succeeded, burned the city to the ground and sold its people into slavery.

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

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