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Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Laws of Power (7)

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 7th law of power is:  Get Others to do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit.  Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause.  Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed.  In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered.  Never do yourself what others can do for you.

Do human beings desire to be special?  Yes, I think so without exception.  Do human beings yearn for and require justice.  Yes, I think that’s another human trait.  Certainly America seeks to “establish justice.”  Yet justice operates at two levels—justice according to the law and justice according to merit.  The police power of the state often cannot enforce justice according to merit because it would be impossible to write a law for every instance. Unfortunately the world is replete with examples where things “taint fair.”  And since we all seek to be special, we all sometimes feel that we are not receiving sufficient recognition.  Monetary compensation somehow seems insufficient for the full subjective need to be special.  In short, even though we are paid, sometimes well paid, the need for recognition is not satisfied.

One reason the institution of the family is so important is that it confers recognition on people at a meaningful level.  No matter how ignored by the world, our relatives make a special place in their hearts for us.  The church is another institution that confers human respect and recognition from within the context that God loves us all.  In the church there is an ethos of the recognition of human individuality and specialness.  The U.S. government by charter guarantees individual freedoms and human rights.  The creative sector in a thousand ways serves to satisfy our need to feel special.  Yet this need is so profound that we can never seem to get enough.

Robert Greene’s 7th Law deals with the need for recognition especially as it regards the accumulation of power.  Recognition can be a form of social power.  Recognition can give you a “godlike aura of efficiency and speed.”  He recommends that you exploit others to attain this power: “In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered.”

He begins the law innocently enough: “Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause.”  Certainly this is at the base of why human beings are social animals. It pays us individually and corporately to live and work together.  Every day in a thousand ways, we all use the “wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of others” to help address our own needs.  That is at the root of every society.

But as in the past with his other Laws Greene takes a God given human trait and turns it to ill.  He recommends not only the use of the contribution of others but the theft of the contribution of others.  In the early days of personal computers this was a great temptation.  I was flattered with potential recognition each time I was tempted to install pirated software on someone’s computer.  “Computer Genius” would be conferred upon me for committing software theft.  Recognition is a devilishly powerful human need.

So in the end, how do we view Greene’s plea: “Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit?” (source in caps).  Sometimes this can be just—managers and their departments come to mind.  Not only should managers get credit if their departments do well, but likewise, managers who do well bring credit to their departments.  I guess there can be a sense in which neither credit is fully earned.  But justice we often find is improved by generosity.   

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