Overview of Law #18: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself—Isolation is Dangerous
Never isolate yourself when you come under pressure. This just cuts you off from information you need and people who could help you, and when real danger arises you won’t see it coming. Instead, make a point of being outgoing. Contact with others increases your power. Isolation is dangerous.
Principles of Law 18
It can be tempting to isolate yourself when you feel pressured or threatened. But this is a mistake. Isolation is dangerous.
Most military commanders understand the risk of isolating yourself behind walls to ward off danger. First, doing so makes you an easy target — everyone knows where you are. Your enemies can lay siege and turn your fortress into a prison. You’re relying on limited information from an ever-smaller group of people. Also, you’re cut off from outside help and intelligence about what’s going on beyond your walls. Such isolation typically ends in defeat.
According to Law 18 of the 48 Laws of Power, isolation is as bad a personal strategy as it is a military strategy. Maintaining power requires social interaction. You need to be the center of all activity and aware of everything and everyone revolving around you.
When faced with threats, resist the urge to isolate yourself. Be more outgoing, connecting with old allies and creating new ones. You’ll be able to keep tabs on what’s going on and can respond effectively. The more you get around and interact in different circles of people, the more difficult it will be to keep secrets from you. And the more contact you have with others, the less likely you are to lose your sense of proportion and become obsessed.
The French minister Talleyrand knew that isolation is dangerous. He always kept an ear to the ground, even associating with unsavory characters to gather information. He survived numerous crises by anticipating developments and making connections with whoever took over. Similarly, kings and queens knew they couldn’t afford to lose touch with the masses or there’d be rebellion.
Keep circulating and you’ll keep people from plotting behind your back, and you’ll be far more elusive to enemies than you’d be behind a wall.
Putting Law 18 to Work
Here’s an example of how to apply Law 18 of the 48 Laws of Power: Louis XIV’s predecessors to the throne had been victims of civil war and conflicts instigated by their nobles. So he made sure to keep track of everyone and everything around him.
From the design of the palace of Versailles with the king’s bed at the center, to his daily ritual requiring his family, courtiers, and government officials to check in with him (around 100 people), Louis XIV made himself the center of activity. He was always looking around, observing everything, including anyone who failed to show up at his meals and other events. Because of the constant togetherness, nothing escaped the king’s notice. By keeping court activity revolving around him and understanding that isolation is dangerous, Louis XIV managed to maintain peace for fifty years.
Exceptions to Law 18
Are there any exceptions to Law 18 of the 48 Laws? The only time you might benefit from isolation is when you need space to think and gain perspective, undistracted by what’s going on around you.
For instance, Machiavelli wrote The Prince while in exile; other prisoners with time on their hands have been known to produce well-received books. Just make sure your isolation is only temporary, before it becomes quicksand. In general, follow Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself—Isolation is Dangerous.
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