For you, my magnificent reader: this post analyses the meaning of “Win through your Actions, never through Argument”. What follows is an in-depth summary of approximately 2300 words.
Any momentary triumph you think gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.
Contents of Law #9 of the 48 Laws of Power
Part 1: Video Summary
Part 2: Examples & Applications
Part 3: Negative Example
Part 4: Spirit of the Law
Part 5: Most Important Learnings
Short Video Summary
Examples & Applications
Piero Sadorini, the famous major of Florence, lived during the time of Da Vinci, Machiavelli and Michelangelo. He got his hands on a marvelous marble stone. Unfortunately one of his artists mutilated the stone beyond saving. Many other artists inspected the botched stone and came to the conclusion that it was ruined. All but one.
Michelangelo traveled to Florence to make himself a picture of the mess. After evaluating the case, he believed himself being able to salvage it. Piero Sadorini was a little sceptical but in the end allowed Michelangelo to start chiseling away.
It turned into a true master piece, famous far beyond the borders of Italy. David, with the sling shot in his hand. As soon as Michelangelo finished this fine work, he showed it to Sadorini.
Believing himself to be an expert critic of the highest calibre (a little below your average Yelp critic), he informed Michelangelo that David’s nose was too big. The major didn’t realize what the artist saw: that the angle bastardized his view of the perfect nose.
Now Michaelango could have explained Sadorini that little fact, risking to offend his taste. But he chose the right thing, which was to show, rather than tell. He picked up some dust and his tool and pretended to be working on the nose, dropping some dust in the process. He artuflly gave the appearance of changing the form of the nose, while not removing a single grain of marble.
When he was done, he asked Sadorini if it was to his liking now. Cheerfully the major praised Michelangelo for making the nose come alive.
Michelangelo managed to metaphorically change his mood, not his mind.
Victor Lustig, one of the most effective con artists, used the Law – Win through your Actions, never through arugment – to get out of a possible deadly situation. One of his schemes was to convince his victims that he owned a machine to print money. A fancy looking hoax of course. Selling the machine to quite a few people, he made a small fortune. Most of his victims were so embarassed that they had been played for fools, that they took no action. No vendetta and they didn’t even report the crime to the police.
One gentleman, Sheriff Richards of Remsen County, was not an individual who took lightly to being conned. He tracked Victor Lustig down in a hotel and confronted him. He wanted his money back, threatened him and made a scene. The con man was not impressed and stayed calm. He used a perfect mix of both showing and telling.
At first he feigned ignorance and acted confused by the claim that the maschine is not working. Then he confidently bombarded the sheriff with technical mumbo jumbo, confusing him. His act oozed confidence and boldness, so the sheriff soon dropped his aggressive behavior. Doubt and insecurity befell his mind. Because Lustig was so calm, confused and confident, the sheriff wanted to believe him.
The con man then gave him his money back and promised to visit him in his town to fix the machine. A few days later the sheriff was arrested. Apparently he passed counterfeit bills. The same bills he received from Victor Lustig…
Dumbo Pretendiavelli found himself in deep trouble with his girlfriend. Somehow she had lost attraction for him. Neither she nor Dumbo knew, what was the reason, but his girlfriend formed new connections and spread out her tentacles, preparing to swing to another branch.
Dumbo Pretendiavelli has a lot of beta provider qualities. A good steady income, warm and caring, romantic and his girlfriend meant the world to him. He wouldn’t dare looking after another woman passing by. Making sure that his girlfriend leads a happy comfortable life, he constantly showers her with gifts and affection.
Realizing the sharp decline in their relationship, Dumbo decided to have a talk with her. His plan was to convince her to stay with him and appeal to her logic. He tried to explain why he is such a great catch for her. That he loves her and makes a great provider, that they share the friend circle and have many interests in common.
Win through your actions, never through argument means exactly that. Acta, non verba. Deeds, not words. He violated this law, thinking that he could convincer her and talk her into loving him.
But human beings don’t work that way. Despite considering ourselves logical, rational beings, we are only one evolutionary step away form animals. Our instincts decide our emotions and actions.
Instead of saving their relationship he alienated her even more. A month later he found her in his own bed with another guy called Chad Thundercock.
In a desperate attempt to uncover where he had gone wrong, he searched for answers. But instead of improving himself, working out, honing dominant traits, stopping to be a pushover; he tried to use words over deeds.
Spirit of Win through your Actions, never through Argument
Show proof & Prove them Wrong
If you find yourself in an argument, no matter if in a business situation or online, it makes sense to link to evidence. Words are good, but actionable proof is better. Convince them by undenieable proof instead of arguing why they are wrong. Unfortunately this doesn’t work all the time, since some people won’t accept the truth, even if it punches them in the face. Some people are so engulfed in their own dream world, that they are beyond redemption. You win some, you lose some, but at least you have to try.
If you merely convince them with your words, they are likely to resent you for it. Or how Ben Franklin put it: A man who is convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.
Guns (proof, demonstration) & politeness (words) is much more effective than politeness alone – Vladimir Putin
An interesting example of actions over talk is the bumblebee. Physicists have proven, that the bumblebee is unable to fly. That it violates the laws of physics. The bumblebee doesn’t care about that talk and flies anyway.
Know when to prove them wrong
The modern prince has to refrain from being a know-it-all. People hate smart-asses. If you have to prove everyone and everything wrong, it reveals an underlying problem. Fix it and keep your mouth closed. Even if you win a pointless battle, you might lose the war. Before trying to argue and proof someone wrong, ask yourself:
What’s in it for me, what is to be gained if I start an argument. – Lionel Fox
A derivation of a quote coined by the best general to ever lead troops into battle. The following quote is one of my favourites and you too should always keep it in mind. Not only in this situation, but in many other everyday life situations.
Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning. – Erwin „Desert Fox“ Rommel
Is it wise to waste your time, energy and resources on fighting an uphill battle? Most likely not. The general who wins a battle, undergoes meticulous planning beforehand. And so should you. Plan & analyze how much each battle is going to cost you, and the most beneficial outcome. If you stand a good chance at winning and the reward is juicy, go to war. Otherwise save your resources and fight another day.
You work in sales and have a customer who speaks nicely about his current product. You tell him how awesome your product is and belittle his purchase. An argument arises and maybe you will be able to convince him, that your product really is a much better choice and that he wasted his money.
Supreme victory for you! As you walk out of the door you think: “I showed that sucker!”. But without any sale. You both lose. Better try a more subtle approach, agree with him (no matter how stupid he sounds) and prove him wrong following the principle of don’t explicate, demonstrate.
If you are invited to a dinner party and the host thinks a quote from Shakespeare was actually made by Mickey Mouse, why argue? You have nothing at all to gain. Think of him as a fool and get over your ego. If you can’t get over your ego and have the urge to prove him wrong, say well I might be wrong but I believe this quote comes from Shakespeare. Take out your phone and show him the source of the quote. This will make him resent you less than if you would start an argument. Read: resent you less. Nobody likes getting proven wrong, so it often makes sense to keep quiet.
Sometimes you should let it go, but in other situations it does make sense to prove your opponent wrong. Either via words or better yet, by demonstration and action.
If you openly attack someone and start an argument, you automatically put your opposite on the defense. Hence you should probe subtly and reveal his intention that way. Many people won’t tell you what they really think. Ask someone if he likes your eassay/product and he is likely to say „yeah, sure, why not“. If you are looking for a real critique of your work, so you are able to improve it, you are better off asking: What could I do to improve xyz.
Use this technique to find out what your opposite thinks. It works wonders.
Acta, non Verba
Acta, non verba is latin and translates to Win through your Actions, never through Argument. If you are stingy and want the 1:1 translation: Deeds, not Words!
Don’t explain your philosophy, embody it. – Epictetus
You want to win the election and not the debate. Don’t pursue short-term victories, if your long-term strategy is at risk. Sometimes it is better to walk away and avoid getting sucked into your opponent’s frame. A perfect example would be Law #8, where I explained that Donald Trump walked away, instead of accepting the challenge of the debate.
Try to change their mood by walking away or winning via action, as opposed to merely changing their minds. Talk is cheap. Unless you require legal assistence of course…
If you own or work for a company’s PR department, you should already be familiar with that approach. Acta, non verba is the best advice one can give. People are always going to judge the prince and the principality, based on the actions they take. While words do have their place in deceiving a crowd, action is preferred. Abide to the old proverb that actions speak louder than words.
If you happen to evoke a shitstorm, sit it out and wait for it to subdue. Apologize and move on. Or pour oil into the fire. Always keep Law #48 in mind. Assume formlessness and adapt your plan when beneficial.
Promising too much and letting your customers down is a mistake. Better to underpromise and overdeliver than the other way around. Unless you are a politician. In this case it is much better to overpromise, underdeliver and gamble with the short attention span of the people. This might sound like sarcasm, but it is not. I have close ties to politics and trust me, this is done all the time, because it is so effective. People in the private sector can not get through with this shady tactic though.
Defend yourself against accusations
If someone accuses you of lying, you either ignore it or get emotional and prove them wrong. Arnold Schwarzenegger, by some believed to be a racist and Nazi, came under fire for praising Hitler. In an emotional speech he assured the public that „he despises Hitler and everything he stood for“. By becoming angry that some people might believe him to be a nazi, he managed to convince his critics that he is in fact against that ideology. Even though various points would speak against him.
Similar to what Victor Lustig did, when his victim confronted him about his fake product. He acted confused and pretended to not know what the problem was. By acting in a confident manner, going into the offensive, both men have manged to overcome doubts.
Most Important Learnings
- Back up your statements with proof & evidence
- Guns & Politeness are much more effective than politeness alone
- Don’t explain your philosophy, embody it
- Don’t change their mind, change their mood
- Never fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning
I hope you enjoyed reading my interpretation of Law #9 – Win through your actions, never through argument. If you have more examples of the possible applications or questions of any kind or wish to share your thoughts and experiences, please feel free to do so.
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