Notes politics Psychology

Law 6: Court Attention at all Cost (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law: 6 Court Attention at all Cost


Appearance is everything, don’t get lose in a crowd. If you don’t stand out, you are sure to disappear into obscurity. Appear larger, more colorful, and more mysterious by the timid and bland masses to get attention.

Associate Your Name with the Sensational and the Scandalous

Attract your attention to you at all costs, there is no such thing as ‘bad publicity’. Scandal is not destructive to your image, it is enhancing. More notoriety will make you more powerful.

America’s famous showman in the 19th century, P.T Barnum, began his career as an assistant to a circus owner, Aaron Turner. One morning, when the circus stopped in Annapolis, Maryland in 1836, Barnum took a stroll through the town, wearing a new black suit. People looked at him suspiciously and followed him. One person accused him of being the Reverend Ephram K.Avery, an infamous man who was acquitted of a murder charge, but most Americans still thought he was guilty. Barnum was attacked by an angry mob – he desperately pleaded with them and promised to prove that his identity by taking them to the circus. The angry mob agreed.

The circus owner, Aaron Turner, reassured the mob that he had spread the rumor himself as a practical joke. The crowd left but a furious Barnum demanded an explanation. Turner told Barnum that the only way to ensure success was through notoriety. He was right, the circus was packed ever time the circus visited town, and Barnum learned a lesson he would never forget.

Barnum’s first big business was the American Museum – a collection of curiosities, located in New York. A beggar once approached Barnum in the street. Barnum didn’t give him money, but he gave him a job. He took him back to the circus and told him to take five bricks and make a slow circuit of several blocks.

At certain points he was to lay down a brick on the sidewalk, always keeping one brick in hand. On the return journey he was to replace each brick on the street with the one he held. Meanwhile he was to remain serious of countenance and to answer no questions. Once back at the museum, he was to enter, walk around inside, then leave through the back door and make the same bricklaying circuit again.

Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

At first, hundreds of people watched his mysterious movements. By the fourth time, people swarmed around him, trying to figure out what he was doing. Whenever he entered the museum, people followed him in and bought tickets to keep watching him. By the end of the day, he drew over a thousand customers into the museum. The police eventually stopped the act because the immense crowds that were forming were blocking traffic. But this strategy earned Barnum thousands of new customers and many of these became loyal fans.

Barnum devised many similar strategies over the years, building his reputation and his business to great heights. He understood a fundamental truth about attracting attention: You gain credibility when people’s eyes are on you. He once wrote “Every crowd has a silver lining.”

If one person stops to observe the beggar laying bricks, another will inevitably follow, and so forth. But to attract a crowd, you must do something odd – people will only stop their routine when they see something strange and different.

At the beginning of your rise, devote your time to courting attention. And remember, the quality of the attention doesn’t matter. Barnum’s shows were often badly reviewed, and many critics slandered him, but he didn’t care. The more they talked about him, the more they famous and powerful they made him.

The court of Louis XIV contained many talented writers, artists, and beautiful women. But the most talked about person was Duc de Lauzun. The duke was a short man, and he was always misbehaving. He slept with the king’s mistress and openly insulted other couriers, even the king himself. Yet king Louis was so entranced by the duke’s eccentricities that he couldn’t bear his absence from the court.

Society craves the showman, the larger-than-life figure that fearlessly steps outside the timidity of the crowd. They admire this person and reward him. This is true of every profession, since every line of work requires showmanship ability.

Be ostentatious and be seen…. What is not seen is as though it did not exist…. It was light that first caused all creation to shine forth. Display fills up many blanks, covers up deficiencies, and gives everything a second life, especially when it is backed by genuine merit

Baltasar Gracián

Create an Air of Mystery

Another similar tactic is to use mystery to create anticipation. This means to never show your hand. The world used to be filled with mystery; there were many things we didn’t understand. Today, things are increasingly more familiar. Science has shed light on many previous mysteries, and now things seem familiar and comfortable. There is less unpredictability, and this makes mystery even more valuable.

The power of mystery is that invites debate, and triggers our imagination. It leads us to believe that what was being concealed is spectacular. You do not have to be grand or awe-inspiring to draw mystery. You can do so by displaying a mysterious demeanor, and court attention in a subtle way.

Most people are like an open book, you know exactly what’s going on with them. This makes them very predictable. But if you restrain yourself, and remain silent, occasionally saying ambiguous things, even being inconsistent and slightly odd, they you will create an aura of mystery. People will find it difficult to read you, and will be curious to know more.

Lustig used attention to lure suckers in with little effort. His victims begged for his confidence and companionship. Everyone wanted to be seen with the mysterious Lustig while he was robbing them blind.

The great general Hannibal faced a precarious situation during the Second Punic War (219-202 B.C). He skillfully led his Carthage army to many victories against the Romans, but one time, one of his scouts made a big mistake. He led Hannibal’s troops into a marshy terrain with their backs towards the sea. They were trapped. Fabius, the Roman general, was ecstatic and thought he had finally defeated Hannibal. He positioned his best sentries across the surrounded area and worked carefully on a plan to attack Hannibal’s forces.

But in the middle of the night, a large procession of lights were headed up the mountain. Suddenly, thousands of lights were seen. It seemed that Hannibal’s army had grown a hundredfold. The sentries didn’t know what to make of it, some thought they were reinforcements from the sea. Then fires broke out all over the mountain and they heard horrible noises form below that sounded like millions of horns blowing. They thought these were demons and even the bravest sentries fled in panic. Hannibal led his army to safety the next day.

His trick was that he ordered bundles of twigs to be tied to the horns of thousands of oxen that traveled with his troops as beasts of burden. When the twigs were lit, they gave the impression of torches being lit by a large army climbing up the mountain. When the flames had reached the oxen’s skin, it caused them to disperse in a frenzy across the mountain, roaring loudly, and lighting up everything in their path. The mystery Hannibal conjured saved his army.

If you do not declare yourself immediately, you arouse expectation…. Mix a little mystery with everything, and the very mystery stirs up veneration. And when you explain, be not too explicit…. In this manner you imitate the Divine way when you cause men to wonder and watch.

Baltasar Gracián 

The reversal is that even though gaining attention should be done at all cost in your rise to the top, the tactic will eventually wear off if used too often. Be mysterious, but within reason.

Read The 48 Laws of Power

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

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