48 Laws of Power | Law 38: Think as You Like but Behave Like Others

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Overview of Law #38: Think as You Like but Behave Like Others

If you make a show of being different, flaunting unconventional ideas and behavior, people will think you look down on them and will retaliate against you for making them feel inferior. It’s better to blend in; share your real views only with close friends and like-minded people.

Principles of Law 38

It’s impossible to speak absolutely freely. We learn at a young age to hide our thoughts so we don’t offend, and to tell sensitive and insecure people what they want to hear. Inwardly, we think and believe what we want, but outwardly we try to be inoffensive. This is a good habit: Think as You Like but Behave Like Others.

However, some people chafe against such restraints, and aim to prove the superiority of their unconventional beliefs. They mostly offend rather than convincing anyone because people don’t easily reject their values, which have an emotional component.

Most unconventional people learn to blend in with others and to share their differing views only with like-minded people. Appearances are what counts — when you look like others, they assume you believe as they do and they leave you alone.

We have many orthodoxies today that we’re expected to adhere to, from which deviating is frowned on. For instance, when Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine he broke scientific protocol and publicly announced it before allowing vetting by the scientific community. Thereafter, scientists shunned him.

According to Law 38 of the 48 Laws of Power, powerful people, however, know the value of seeming to be all things to all people. You wear many different masks to avoid problems and get others to do what you want. When you let people think you believe as they do, they’re flattered and let down their guard.

Putting Law 38 to Work

Here is an example of how to apply Law 38 of the 48 Laws of Power: A writer named Campanella was imprisoned and tortured during the Spanish Inquisition for repeatedly expressing his atheist beliefs. While most people believed Catholic dogma or at least appeared to go along with it, Campanella couldn’t restrain himself, and he paid for it. However, while in prison he came up with a new strategy of appearing to comply while still making his point. 

First, to save his life, he feigned madness, and his death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Then he wrote a book espousing ideas that were the opposite of what he’d previously expressed. He was released and wrote another book, in which he presented the Catholic argument against the views of atheists and other free-thinkers. But in the process, he had to explain the heretical views. In so doing, he gave the new ideas more exposure and to many people they seemed compelling compared to the church’s standard, dull response. 

It was unsettling to Catholic readers but they couldn’t call it heretical because he’d used their own arguments. The lesson he learned was that appearing to fit in while expressing your ideas in a kind of code for a selected audience is a more useful approach than martyrdom.

Exceptions to Law 38

Are there any exceptions to Law 38 of the 48 Laws of Power? Should you ever not think as you like but behave like others? Standing out instead of blending in can be useful if you’re already powerful. It’s a sign of your power and your distance from other people. President Lyndon Johnson sometimes held meetings while sitting on the toilet — thereby demonstrating that he didn’t need to abide by social codes. Go too far and people might turn on you, however.

Society tolerates a few people who flaunt their differences because they make things more exciting, but you’re most likely to achieve your objectives if you learn to blend in. So follow Law 38 of the 48 Laws of Power: Think as You Like but Behave Like Others.

48 Laws of Power | Law 38: Think as You Like but Behave Like Others

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  • Why you should never outshine your boss
  • How to appear like a friend but behave like a spy
  • The 6 rules you absolutely must not violate, if you want to be successful

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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