Law 39: Stir up Waters to Catch Fish (48 Laws of Power)

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Overview of Law #39: Stir up Waters to Catch Fish

Always stay calm and objective. When you get angry, you’ve lost control. But if you can make your enemies angry, you gain an advantage. Rattle your enemies to put them off balance.

Principles of Law 39

When someone gets irrationally angry at you, realize two things:

  • They will end up looking foolish, and will lose others’ respect because they’ve lost control. Their behavior is a sign of helplessness.
  • Their anger isn’t personal— it mostly stems from past experiences. Rather than a personal grudge, it’s an effort to punish or control you, which you can and should counter.

Instead of getting caught up in someone’s emotions, think calmly about how to use them. This is the key to Law 39 of the 48 Laws of Power.

You may want to deliberately trigger someone, either to demonstrate their instability to all, or to bait them to behave foolishly. There are numerous ways to do this, including mocking your opponent’s manhood or injuring their pride or vanity. Stir up waters to catch fish. When they react, you can win easily.

Putting Law 39 to Work

Here is an example of how to apply Law 39 of the 48 Laws of Power: Losing control of your emotions may be the beginning of the end for you. Napoleon’s decline began when he exploded at a meeting with his ministers over Talleyrand’s attempts to undermine him. Talleyrand remained calm while Napoleon became increasingly unhinged. His meltdown turned out to be emblematic of the way his regime was beginning to unravel, and others saw it that way.

Losing your temper in an unhinged way may cause people to fear you at first, but fear soon gives way to disrespect and doubts about your stability. When you publicly show anger or frustration, you’re showing powerlessness, like a child having a tantrum. When you expose weakness in this way, you’re headed for a fall. Talleyrand knew how to stir up waters to catch fish.

Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie used an opponent’s emotions to lure him into a trap. Selassie knew his opponent Gusga was plotting to oust him. To get control of the situation, Selassie insulted and angered Gusga to flush him into the open. Gusga marched on the capital as expected, but Selassie had persuaded many of his soldiers to defect, and Selassie defeated him. If you can control your emotions while pushing others so that they lose control, you’ll have the upper hand.

Exceptions to Law 39

Are there any exceptions to Law 39 of the 48 Laws of Power? Should you ever not stir up waters to catch fish? Before deliberately triggering someone, make sure you won’t be creating a situation you can’t control, or that will end badly for you.

Occasionally, a concocted show of anger can benefit you, to bring someone into line. But if you use the technique too often, it will lose its effect. In general, follow Law 39 of the 48 Laws of Power: Stir up Waters to Catch Fish.

Law 39: Stir up Waters to Catch Fish (48 Laws of Power)

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  • Why you should never outshine your boss
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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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