Overview of Law #22: Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power
Surrendering can be a tool of power. When you’re weaker, surrender rather than fighting for the sake of honor. This gives you time to build strength and undermine your victor, while you wait for his power to weaken. You’ll win in the end. You can transform weakness into power.
Principles of Law 22
It may seem counterintuitive, but surrendering to your opponents can be the best course because it puts you in a position of control.
People typically overreact to opponents’ actions, which escalates their problems. Your first instinct will be to respond to aggression with greater aggression. But your enemy will step up his aggression in turn. If you’re the weaker party, you’ll be decimated.
According to Law 22 of the 48 Laws of Power, a wiser and more effective tactic is to surrender, to turn the other cheek. That halts your opponent’s aggression and confuses her, while giving you the upper hand. While your opponent is lulled into thinking she’s defeated you, you now have the space to build your strength, discover your enemy’s weaknesses, and plan revenge. This is how to use the surrender tactic.
On the surface, you appear compliant, but inwardly you’re standing firm. It requires self-control to play dead long enough to make your opponent think she’s defeated you. If you get up too soon, you’ll ruin the charade and end up suffering.
Sometimes when overpowered by an enemy, it’s tempting to run. But eventually, he’ll catch up with you and crush you. Instead, stay close enough to strike when you’re ready.
In ancient China, a king, Goujian, lost a battle to the ruler of Wu. Rather than fleeing, he gave the victor his riches and went to work in Wu’s stables, where he could watch and learn how to defeat him in the future. Eventually, he was allowed to return home, and when the kingdom of Wu was undermined by drought and infighting, Goujian attacked and won easily.
Power fluctuates. The person on top today will eventually fall. Surrender often puts you in the best position to benefit when the crash inevitably comes. You can transform weakness into power.
Putting Law 22 to Work
Here’s an example of how to apply Law 22 of the 48 Laws of Power: The German Writer Bertolt Brecht, a communist, fled to the U.S. to work in the film industry when Hitler rose to power. He wrote anticapitalist screenplays, which was fine until the 1950s, when the House Un-American Activities Committee began its Hollywood witch-hunts. Other writers were angry and confrontational when they appeared before the committee, and ended up suffering for it, unable to continue their work.
Brecht, however, was polite and deferential, but gave ambiguous answers. Although his English was quite good, he brought an interpreter who was able to confuse the committee about the meaning of his writings, which appeared to vary depending on whether you read them in German or English. After only an hour, the committee dismissed him, thanking him for his cooperation and proclaiming him an example to other witnesses. Brecht was thus free to continue his work.
By appearing to respect and surrender to the committee’s authority, Brecht made its members feel important while at the same time subtly mocking their ignorance of his work. Brecht knew how to follow Law 22: Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power.
Exceptions to Law 22
Are there any exceptions to Law 22 of the 48 Laws of Power? Should you ever not use the surrender tactic? Some might argue that there are situations or causes that call for martyrdom rather than surrender. Maybe your enemy won’t quit. Maybe you want to inspire future followers. But you wouldn’t be alive to enjoy the rewards. You’re better off waiting for the tide to turn in your favor, and you’ll be alive to take advantage of it. In general, it’s best to follow Law 22 of the 48 Laws of Power: Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power.
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