Law 12: Use Selective Honesty & Generosity To Disarm Your Victim

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary Series


“One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A
timely gift — a Trojan horse — will serve the same purpose.”

Observance Of The Law

This law is a demonstration of how sincere and blunt honesty can end up to your benefit. The following story is from the 1920's centering around Al Capone, one of the most feared gangsters of the 1900's.

Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone was an American gangster who attained fame during the Prohibition era as the co-founder and boss of the Chicago Outfit.

Count Victor Lustig, known as one of the most infamous con men in history paid a visit to Al Capone. He promised that if Capone gave him $50,000 he could double it. Capone had more than enough money to cover this, but he wasn’t in the habit of entrusting large sum’s to total strangers. Capone looked the count over and noted something different about Lustig’s style and manner. Capone proceeded to give him the $50,000 under the provision he had 60 days to double it.

“Lustig left with the money, put it in a safe-deposit box in Chicago, then headed to New York, where he had several other money-making schemes in progress. The $50,000 remained in the bank box untouched. Lustig made no effort to double it. Two months later he returned to Chicago, took the money from the box, and paid Capone another visit.”

He said,

“Please accept my profound regrets, Mr. Capone. I’m sorry to report that the plan failed… I failed.”

Capone slowly stood probably debating in his head how he was going to murder him. But before the Capone could even decide Lustig reached into his coat pocket, withdrew the $50,000, and placed it on the desk.

“Here, sir, is your money, to the penny. Again, my sincere apologies. This is most embarrassing. Things didn’t work out the way I thought they would. I would have loved to have doubled your money for you and for myself — Lord knows I need it — but the plan just didn’t materialize.”

Victor Lustig was a con artist who undertook scams in various countries and became best known as “the man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice.

All Capone could do was respond with confusion.

“I know you’re a con man, Count,” said Capone.

“I knew it the moment you walked in here. I expected either one hundred thousand dollars or nothing. But this… getting my money back … well.”

“Again my apologies, Mr. Capone,” said Lustig,

as he picked up his hat and began to leave.

“My God! You’re honest!” yelled Capone.

“If you’re on the spot, here’s five to help you along.”

He counted out five one-thousand-dollar bills out of the $50,000.

The count seemed stunned, bowed deeply, mumbled his thanks, and left, taking the money. The $5,000 was what Lustig had been after all along.


By doing something no one else had done through intelligent honesty Lustig was able to disarm Capone’s defenses and come out with a profit. Of course Lustig didn’t act like this was his plan all along. He had a great understanding of human psychology and behaviour. Even more so, he reverse engineered how an individual like Capone thought and acted.

It is understood that in the face of someone who is habitually untrustworthy a person’s defenses rise. To counteract this natural human tendency Lustig used ‘selective honesty’ to his advantage to bring down Capon’s guard. He let himself be caught in an act of ‘true honesty’ — the act of giving the money back.

Dissecting ‘The Al Capone Psyche’

There are many alike to Capone who spend most their life mistrusting the company around them, these types find themselves living on edge distrusting many that surround them.

We surrounded by, the fuckin wolves.

Hence the reason when someone like Lustig comes in and exhibits a true gesture of honesty it forces the ‘Capone type’ to pause and reflect. Lustig satisfied the glimmer of hope Capone had; that not everyone he worked for was out to rob him.

An important key to this con working was that it caused a conflict of emotion: A conflict of honesty and dishonesty. Conflicts of emotion create the opportunity to distract and deceive, as Lustig did.

“Do not shy away from practicing this law on the Capones of the world. With a well-timed gesture of honesty or generosity, you will have the most brutal and cynical beast in the kingdom eating out of your hand.”

This law is especially useful for ‘the Capone’s’ who distrust the people around them and find themselves always looking over their shoulder second guessing other people’s intentions.

Keys To Power

From my point of view, the key to this law working in your favor is authenticity. Thus you have to very self-aware of your own behaviour and morph it based on how another is responding and reacting. If you’re not authentic and genuine, people — especially wome who have a tendency to be a lot more naturally perceptive than males will see past your facade.

“Selective honesty is best employed on your first encounter with someone. We are all creatures of habit, and our first impressions last a long time. If someone believes you are honest at the start of your relationship it takes a lot to convince them otherwise. This gives you room to maneuver.”

Everybody talks about how first impressions are important — agreed, it does take a lot to rid a first impression and change it. Knowing that, it’s only wise to use that to your advantage and use selective honesty to create a stable trusting relationship from the beginning. Averting social behavioral risks the first time you meet someone may prove wise to avoid having your authenticity and honesty questioned.

“A single act of honesty is often not enough. What is required is a reputation for honesty, built on a series of acts — but these can be quite inconsequential. Once this reputation is established, as with first impressions, it is hard to shake.”

Understand: It’s going to take more than one act of honesty. Just because we’ve acted kind and generously once does not abstain us from doing it again. Trust takes time.

“Honesty is one of the best ways to disarm the wary, but it is not the only one. Any kind of noble, apparently selfless act will serve. Perhaps the best such act, though, is one of generosity.”

What’s an act of generosity we all perform periodically?

The act of giving gifts.

Everybody likes to receive gifts. If you know the person well and you can find something they will take unique value from than you have found a great way to kindly ‘win someone over’.

What happened 3000 years ago when the ancient Greeks traveled across sea to capture the city of Helen?

They gave gift…a giant trojan horse...

Which was a tactic disguised as a gift that the Greek’s used to aid them in recapturing a city. Years were spent attempting to capture Helen with brute force. But the deception of a gift was all they needed to bring down the defenses — physically and mentally.

“One gift did more for the Greek’s cause than 10 years of fighting.”

Imagine applying this principle to your life when trying to convince someone or get someone to like you, etc. Maybe the simple gesture of a gift will be all that’s needed.

“The tactic must be practiced with caution: If people see through it, their disappointed feelings of gratitude and warmth will become the most violent hatred and distrust. Unless you can make the gesture seem sincere and heartfelt, do not play with fire.”


“When you have a history of deceit behind you, no amount of honesty, generosity, or kindness will fool people. In fact it will only call attention to itself. Once people have come to see you as deceitful, to act honest all of a sudden is simply suspicious.”

Originally Posted

Self reflective writings & book summaries on philosophy, psychology and human behaviour.

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