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Monday, January 17, 2011

The Laws of Power (4)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 4th law of power is:  Always say less than necessary.  When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control.  Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you me it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike.  Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less.  The more you say, the more like you are to say something foolish.

I call this the “Size matters—(in talk) small is always better” law.  The emphasis of this law is entirely on quantity, not quality.  With fake diamonds it’s always wise to understate rather than overstate.  To make the fake diamond believable, it must be smaller rather than larger in size.  But what if the diamond is no fake?  If it’s the real deal do you want it to be less or more?  No, when it’s real, the more the better: the same with talk.  Say a scientific genius has studied energy development all his life.  Approaching death, he discovers a process to produce an unlimited supply of cheap energy.  Knowing that he will soon die, he wants to share his discovery with humanity so he produces a recording explaining the process.  Now, do we want some sphinxlike recording?  “My child, the answer is right before you, seek onward.” No, of course not!  We want as full an explanation of the process as possible with exacting detail: the more revelatory information the better.  Robert Greene’s approach assumes that what you have to say will be unwelcomed news to the hearer—so better keep your mouth shut.  This is clearly not always the case.

In my observation of human relationships, I often have observed that being able to make conversation is a great asset.  The successful and powerful often have this characteristic.  With their proactive approach in conversation, they have the ability to “break the ice” and put shyer folks at ease—they can “take control” of awkward situations.  For them, no one is a stranger.  Being a quiet person myself, I have often wished I were more vocal.  I think my career would have been greatly helped by this ability.  Never being “at a loss for words” is a great asset.  Say in a televised Presidential debate, clearly the candidate who is terse or frequently “made speechless” would be no match for an opponent who is a friendly and confident communicator.  In fact, we are sometimes suspicious of the quiet ones—as if they have something (maybe ignorance or malevolence) to hide.  With this in mind, we avoid them and if possible deny them power.  The 4th law, while sometimes applicable, on the whole seems to miss the mark.

Being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I remember the resounding words of Dr. King (for some reason I always want to call him Martin).  Surely his words helped form and reshape a nation at a critical juncture. His words were testimony to the power of words (and their ability to reveal inner character and strength).  Sometimes the innermost soul of a man is to be greatly welcomed and not to be shunned or hidden.

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