power -- 12/15/16

Today's encore selection -- from The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. When first released in the late 1990s, it was read by Hollywood agents, hip-hop moguls and other power aspirants everywhere. It was not something to look for, however, in the bookstore section on genuineness or caring. Here, Greene elaborates on Law 4: Always Say Less Than Necessary:

"Power is in many ways a game of appearances, and when you say less than necessary you will inevitably appear greater and more powerful than you are. Your silence will make other people uncomfortable. Humans are machines of interpretation and explanation; they have to know what you are thinking. When you carefully control what you reveal, they cannot pierce your intentions or your meaning.

"Your short answers and silences will put them on the defensive, and they will jump in, nervously filling the silence with all kinds of comments that will reveal valuable information about them and their weaknesses. They will leave the meeting with you feeling as if they had been robbed, and they will go home and ponder your every word. This extra attention to your brief comments will only add to your power.

"Saying less than necessary is not for kings and statesmen only. In most areas of life, the less you say the more profound and mysterious you appear. As a young man, the artist Andy Warhol had the revelation that it was generally impossible to get people to do what you wanted them to do by asking them. They would turn against you, subvert your wishes, disobey you out of sheer personality. He once told a friend, 'I learned that you actually have more power when you shut up.'

"In his later life Warhol employed this strategy with great success. His interviews were exercises in oracular speech: He would say something vague and ambiguous and the interviewer would twist in circles trying to figure it out, imagining there was something profound behind his often meaningless phrases. Warhol rarely talked about his work; he let others do the interpreting. He claimed to have learned the technique from Marcel Duchamp, another twentieth century artist who realized early on that the less he said about his work, the more people talked about it. And the more they talked, the more valuable his work became."

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Robert Greene


The 48 Laws of Power


Penguin Books


Copyright Robert Greene and Joost Elffers, 1998


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