Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter (48 Laws of Power)

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Overview of Law #42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter

Trouble in a group often starts with a single individual who stirs the pot. You need to stop them before others succumb to their influence. Neutralize their influence by isolating or exposing them. Their followers will scatter.

Principles of Law 42

In every group or organization, there are one or two people who like to stir the pot, or spread discontent. These troublemakers may operate overtly, subtly, or both. They may or may not be the group’s leaders.

In any case, their rumblings undermine a group’s effectiveness and cooperative spirit by stirring dissension and dissatisfaction and creating factions. Their dissatisfaction is like an infection that spreads quickly, if not caught and treated in the earliest stages. This is why it’s wise to know: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter. In other words, quash the leader, and their followers will disburse and cause less harm.

Ancient Athens recognized the harm such people could do and typically banished them. To maintain your power and prevent your objectives from being derailed, you also need to identify and nip troublemakers in the bud.

According to Law 42 of the 48 Laws of Power, when you sense trouble brewing, look for the disgruntled individual that people seem to be listening to and quoting. Troublemakers are typically overbearing and they’re complainers. To stop them you need to isolate them immediately.

Sometimes people in a group don’t realize the effect a troublemaker is having — some pot stirrers like to work quietly and even disguise their actions. Sometimes you can diminish the effect just by pointing out the person and what she is doing. 

More likely, however, you’ll need to separate the troublemaker from her audience or power base. The overt troublemakers are people with charisma. You can’t reform or educate them, and if you attack them they’ll work underground to get revenge on you. Separate them from the group before they become the eye of a storm.

Use whatever means of isolation works: Physical (if they work for you, reassign or move them, for instance), political, or psychological (turn others against them; find a way to co-opt them or use leverage).

Lure or send the person away at a critical moment, using your skills of distraction and deception. Con artists have always understood that steering someone from their usual social context to a less familiar environment makes them vulnerable to you, and increases your power to influence them.

Putting Law 42 to Work

Here is an example of how to apply “Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter”: Athens had a way of getting rid of antisocial people for behavior such as a holier-than-thou attitude, scheming, being overly ambitious and undermining leaders, and asserting superiority over others.

The city held an annual event in which citizens gathered and voted on the person they wanted to banish for 10 years, by writing the name on a piece of earthenware. The event was cathartic and became a kind festival.

For example, they banished:

  • Aristides, a general, for arrogance, superiority, and scorn for the common people.
  • Themistocles, another general, for being overbearing and constantly talking about his military victories, as if the city wouldn’t have survived without him.
  • Hyperbolus, for slander and for stirring up anger in hopes of getting two political leaders ostracized.

To the Athenians, who were surrounded by enemies, their democracy was the basis of their power and these behaviors threatened it. Making one person suffer in order to restore peace for everyone was a fair price to pay. This demonstrated the power of Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter.

Exceptions to Law 42

Are there any exceptions to Law 42 of the 48 Laws of Power? Should you ever not strike the shepherd? When you isolate your enemy, make sure he can’t come back to exact revenge.

Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, isolated Ulysses S. Grant, but this enraged Grant, who generated support among Republicans and went on to become the next president. Sometimes it’s better to keep people where you can watch them, while you undercut their support. But in general, it’s best to follow Law 42 of the 48 Laws of Power: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter.

Law 42: Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter (48 Laws of Power)

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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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