Law 19: Know Who You’re Dealing With — Do Not Offend The Wrong Person


“There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone will react to your strategies in the same way. Deceive or outmaneuver some people and they will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge. They are wolves in lambs’ clothing. choose your victims and opponents carefully, — then never offend or deceive the wrong person.”

Greene begins this law by identifying five different types of people we see in our culture and society. The point of these is to illustrate how to “distinguish the wolves from the lambs, the fox's from the hares and the hawks from the vultures”. By understanding how to make that distinction you will learn to communicate effectively without making the mistake of crossing someone you shouldn’t.

Opponents, Suckers & Victims: Preliminary Typology

We see this type of person frequently in our culture: people who are very sensitive in their own pride and ego, they often take jokes and subtle comments personally perceiving them to be shots at their character. To effectively communicate with this type of person execute Law 4: Always Say Less Than Necessary.

To reiterate, do not become a target for this type of person. More often than not suspicious people can often be quite dangerous in their action to rid those they suspect.

Everyone has been in a situation where they have either accidentally, or intentionally deceived and hurt someone. Upon such a situation we often expect anger and emotion. When we find the individual we deceived does not express the expected negative emotions, we give off a sigh of relief. That sigh of relief gives us comfort and takes our guard down. Remember: Some act as serpents with long memories biding their time waiting patiently to strike. This type of person “is usually cold and unaffectionate. Be doubly careful of this snake, and if you have somehow injured him, either crush him completely or get him out of your sight”.

Transgression Of The Law

In 1920 there was a con artist by the name of Joe Furey. Furey had made hundreds of thousands of dollars running a con-artist ring in Denver, Colorado. Furey met yet another victim who fell for his con named J. Frank Norfleet who lost $45,000 to Fury.

“Furey and his men had worked such cons hundreds of times over, and the sucker was usually so embarrassed by his gullibility that he quietly learned his lessons and accepted the loss. But Norfleet was not like other suckers. The police couldn’t help him so he decided to take matters into his own hands. Norfleet told the detectives “I’ll get them if it takes the rest of my life”. He scoured the country searching for the group looking for others who had been fleeced in the same game. He managed to get one of the con artists locked up through this, he kept going. He tracked down another in Montana, roped him like a calf, and dragged him through the muddy streets to the town jail. He traveled all the way to England, Canada and Mexico in search of Joe Furrey and Furrey’s right hand man, W.B. Spencer. Finding Spencer in Montreal, Norfleet chased him through the streets. Spencer escaped but Norfleet stayed on his trail catching up with him in Salt Lake City. Preferring the mercy of the law to Norfleet’s wrath, Spencer turned himself in.

Norfleet found Furey in Jacksonville, Florida and personally hauled him off to face justice in Texas. But he wouldn’t stop there: He continued on to Denver, determiend to break up the entire ring. Spending not only large sums of money but another year of his life in the pursuit, he managed to put all of the con ring’s leaders behind bars. Even some he didn’t catch had grown so terrified of him they they too turned themselves in. After five years of hunting, Norfleet had single-handedly destroyed the country’s largest confederation of con artists. The effort bankrupted him and ruined his marriage, but he died a satisfied man.”

Understand: Deceive and lie enough and you will eventually come across people like this who will go to all ends of the earth to stop you. Proceed with caution.


“Men like this may seem to be crusaders for justice and honesty, but they are actually immoderately insecure. Being fooled, being conned, has activated their self-doubt, and they are desperate to repair the damage. Were the mortgage on Norfleet’s ranch, the collapse of his marriage, and the years of borrowing money and living in cheap hotels worth his revenge over his embarrassment at being conned? To the Norfleet’s of the world, overcoming their embarrassment is worth any price”.

To many, going to these lengths may sound extreme and insane. But we must understand there are those that will go to these lengths in the face of humiliation.

Keys To Power

“If you want to turn people down it is better to do so politely and respectfully. Even if you feel their request is impudent or their offer ridiculous. Never reject them with an insult until you know them better”

To act with grace and honor in the face of the opposite, is invaluable. You just never know what somebody is capable of until you truly test them. Then you ask yourself, do you really want to know? Do you really want to push them to that darkness?

People are often quick to burn bridges discounting previous relationships with negativity and malice. In the context of this law it makes you consider how much more cautious we should be about the bridges we burn. Maybe it’s smartest to ‘burn a bridge mentally’ for the health of our own psyche, whilst keeping some reminisce of the physical reality of our relationships — “our bridges”. Rather that than cause deception and hurt at the risk of unveiling the wrath and vengeance of another.

“Swallow the impulse to offend, even if the other person seems weak, because one day that person may be in a position to hurt you.” What, you don’t think in Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan’s rookie seasons people weren’t talking shit about them like they were a nobody? Of course they were, and all this did was add fuel to the fire to help mold them into the greats they became.

Two final words of caution:

“First, in judging and measuring your opponent, never rely on your instincts. You will make the greatest mistakes of all if you rely on such inexact indicators. Nothing can substitute for gathering concrete knowledge.”

Here is were I disagree, there is a lot that can be learnt about ‘gut feelings’ and the instinct we feel from people. BUT, instead of discounting it, combining that feeling with Greene’s suggestion of “concrete knowledge” seem’s the most intelligent form of information gathering. Instinct + Concrete Knowledge. Instinct alone can be risky — it’s subjective and it can’t be measured. It’s usually not an acceptable answer to most questions — people want hard facts they can touch and analyse. So instead, use both.

Second, never trust appearances.

“Anyone with a serpent’s heart can use a show of kindness to cloak it; a person who is blustery on the outside is often really a coward. Learn to see through appearances and their contradictions. Never trust the version that people give of themselves — it is utterly unreliable.”

Why? Because people display different versions of themselves every day depending on the context they are within. Whether conscious or unconscious, we are all chameleons. Difference being, we all have varying skill and talent at playing this game.



Originally Posted

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store