Law 2: Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary Series


“Be wary of friends-they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.”

Observance Of The Law

The following story is a recollection from the Han Dynasty AD.222. During this time of Chinese history when an emperor was put into power there was nearly always a plot to assassinate him only a year or two after the throne had been taken. This cycle would repeat for many years. Generals would rise time and time again only to quickly be killed of.

To be an emperor of China was to be surrounded by your very enemies who were plotting to kill you. In A.D. 959 General Chao K’uang-yin of became emperor.

To celebrate General Chao K’uang-yin becoming emperor he ordered a banquet and held a celebration inviting the most powerful commanders in the army. They were all drunk in celebration, which is usually the time the emperor would have sentenced all the men to death because of the paranoia of enemies plotting to kill him.

Instead, General Chao addressed these men and acknowledged the following:

“The whole day is spent in fear, and I am unhappy both at the table and in my bed. For which one of you does not dream of ascending the throne? I do not doubt your allegiance, but if by some chance your subordinates, seeking wealth and position, were to force the emperor’s yellow robe upon you in turn, how could you refuse it?”

Fearing for their lives they all proclaimed their innocence and their loyalty. They were effectively trying to earn his favor and suck up to him, they didn’t want to die. But instead of killing them, he simply bribed them. The General said…

“The best way to pass one’s days is in peaceful enjoyment of riches and honor. If you’re willing to give up your commands, I am ready to provide you with fine estates and beautiful dwelling's where you may take your pelasure with singers and girls as your companions”.

Essentially bribing them instead of killing them. Instead of a life of anxiety and fear they chose security and wealth. The next day all the generals tendered their resignations and they retired accepting these gifts.

In one simple act a pack of ‘angry wolves’ was turned into a group of ‘docile lambs’.

Keys To Power

Bringing it back to our current reality…

“The problem is that you often don’t know your friends as well as you imagine. Friends often agree on things in order to avoid an argument. They cover up their unpleasant qualities so as to not offend each other. They laugh extra hard at each others jokes. Since honesty rarely strengthens friendship you may never know how a friend truly feels. Friends will say that they love your poetry, adore your music, envy your taste in cloths. Maybe they mean it, often they do not.”

Most people aren’t honest or comfortable enough to tell a friend the above truth’s. Sit back and observe the behaviour within any conversation and you will quickly find this law rings true in most.

This law can be applied to a lot of social contexts, for example, meeting somebody for the first time; we’re often either afraid or hesitant of revealing our true thoughts and feelings. On the topic of favors and friendship, Greene notes receiving a favor from someone can be of moral detriment to you.

“The receipt of a favor can become a oppressive. It means you’ve been chosen because you’ are friend, not necessarily because you are deserving. There’s almost a touch of condescension in the act of hiring friends that secretly afflicts them.”

Sometimes we accept favors or do favors for other’s out of pity for certain qualities. Sometimes we let our friendship with a another cause obligation to perform kind and generous acts. Understand: This has the potential to cause resentment within yourself. Especially if that person takes advantage of that friendship and takes more than their share offered.

“The problem with using or hiring friends is that it will inevitably limit your power. The friend is rarely the one who is most able to help you and in the end, skill and competence are far more important than friendly feelings.”

If you’re going to use a friend in any type of business or formal relationship you have to really step back and ask yourself whether this person has the skills and competence to help you. And vice versa, do you have those requisite skills to help your friend. Ensure you’re not blindly accepting them just because they’re you’re friend and it’s convenient. Using a trusted objective third-party may help determine whether the move your going to make is intelligent — usually they’ll see something you cannot see.

To switch gears back to the topic of “enemies”…

“Whenever you can bury the hatchet with an enemy make a point and put to put them in your service.”

Most people wouldn’t think to approach someone they did not like for their own personal power and gain. In the video version of this summary I commented on how your enemies may hold certain values that may be of use to you. While this may be true in theory, I am yet to either witness this or use this in a practical sense. But apparently Abraham Lincoln used it…

Abraham Lincoln

The connotation of the word “enemy” may lend many to believe they don’t have enemies. Here’s something to consider if you believe that: If you don’t know where your enemies are than you set yourself up to get attacked and manipulated without knowing.

“Never let the presence of enemies upset or distress you. You are far better off with a declared opponent or two than not knowing where your real enemies lie. The man of power welcome’s conflict using enemies to enhance his reputation as surefooted fighter who can be relied upon in times of uncertainty.”



In times when using your friends can be beneficial Greene talks about using a friend as a scapegoat to do your dirty work. It can be more beneficial to your reputation to have a friend take the fall and be the scapegoat. You essentially use their affection to your advantage.

That sounds quite manipulative and ‘dirty’ to me. Most people wouldn’t be comfortable with that. Regardless we must understand the world we live in of 7+ billion people. People are going to use this on you, so you might as well be aware of it to mitigate the chances of being taken advantage of. This become is not just about aggressive action, it’s about proactive prevention.

Additionally, in the race to get ahead and climb the mountain top you may need to mold and bend your morals at times. You are most likely going to need to do things others aren’t willing to do. Much of this book may not sit well with you which is completely fair. But understand it’s worked for countless people and it may be something to at least experiment with. To conclude, Greene reiterates the issue of working with friends again with how it can confuse boundaries and distance.

“If both parties come to an arrangement to understand the dangers and risks involved a friend can be of great effect. But always be on your toes, always been on a lookout for any signs of emotional disturbance such as envy or ingratitude, because that can be poisonous.”

Nothing is stable in the realm of power. Even the closest friends can be transformed into the worst of enemies

Originally Posted

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

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