This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The 48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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Overview of Law #16: Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor
Once you’ve become well-known and admired, use absence to increase respect and honor. The more you’re seen and heard from after a certain point, the more you cheapen your brand. People will lose interest and respect for you. But if you make yourself scarce for a while, you’ll renew people’s respect and appreciation.
Principles of Law 16
In wielding power, both presence and absence are key concepts. According to Law 16 of the 48 Laws of Power, with a strong presence, you attract attention and overshadow everyone else. But if you overdo it and become ubiquitous, people will stop paying attention to you and you’ll lose respect and power. This is where absence comes in. You can preserve and enhance your status by withdrawing at the right moment, just before people start getting tired of you.
The cycle of seduction and love works this way. When your lover begins taking you for granted, pull away for a while without explanation. Your absence regenerates the person’s desire for you, and when you return he or she cherishes and respects you again. Similarly, novelists J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon stirred endless fascination and interest by disappearing from the public eye. These cases demonstrate the power of Law 16: Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor.
The principle of absence or scarcity is integral to economics. When something is hard to get, it has high value. The art dealer Joseph Duveen boosted the value of paintings by making them scarce — he bought entire collections and stored them to get them off the market and increase prices. You can apply the principle to your own skills as well. Ensure that what you have to offer is unique, so it has high value. This is key to properly executing Law 16 of the 48 Laws of Power.
At some point, nearly everyone in the limelight overstays their welcome, and the respect people have for them plummets. Knowing when to retire is key. If you do it at the right time, you’ll continue to be respected. For instance, the actress Greta Garbo retired in her mid-thirties, preferring to leave the stage before fans got tired of her. She knew how to use absence to increase respect and honor.
Make yourself less accessible to enhance your value in others’ minds.
Putting Law 16 to Work
Here’s an example of how to apply Law 16 of the 48 Laws of Power: In the eighth century B.C., a man named Deioces wanted to be named ruler of Medea (the country resisted choosing a leader because of a bad history under a monarchy). So first, Deioces built a reputation as a man who could settle disputes fairly, and people soon flocked to him for judgments, which kept the society functional and peaceful.
Suddenly he announced he was tired of it and retired from public life. Chaos ensued, so people clamored for him to return even to the point of setting up a monarchy for him.
He became king, but continued to employ the concept of scarcity. He isolated himself and communicated with people only on his schedule and terms. He engendered great respect and ruled with god-like status for fifty-three years. This is a great example of following Law 16: Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor.
Exceptions to Law 16
Are there any exceptions to Law 16 of the 48 Laws of Power? Is there a time when you shouldn’t use absence to increase respect and honor? Making yourself scarce periodically only works if you’ve already achieved power and respect. If you step away before people know and respect you, they’ll just forget you.
For instance, withdrawing from a lover only works if you’ve achieved such a presence that she’s reminded of you constantly while you’re gone, for instance when she hears a song or eats at a restaurant you liked. Before you can be missed, you have to be seen and appreciated.
So show up first. Then, use absence to increase respect and honor.
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- Why you should never outshine your boss
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- The 6 rules you absolutely must not violate, if you want to be successful