Law 36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignore Them Is The Best Revenge

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary Series


“By acknowledging a petty problem you give it existence and credibility. The more attention you pay an enemy, the stronger you make him; and a small mistake is often made worse and more visible when you try to fix it. It is sometimes best to leave things alone. If there is something you want but cannot have, show contempt for it. The less interest you reveal, the more superior you seem.”

“The best lesson you can teach an irritating gnat is to consign it to oblivion by ignoring it. If it is impossible to ignore, then conspire in secret to do away with it, but never inadvertently draw attention to the bothersome insect that will go away or die on it’s own.”

This insect is a metaphor for life’s small, but insignificant problems.

An example of ignoring the “gnats” can be seen in 1930's politics.

“Critiques of Franklin D. Roosevelt complained bitterly about the money his administration spent on government projects, but their attacks had no resonance with the public, who saw the president as working to end the Great Depression.” The Great Depression distracted the public's attention and care sufficiently to mitigate his detractors (the gnats) from having an influence.

Philosopher Baltasar Gracian articulates why we should not take most thing’s to heart.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales, SJ, better known as Baltasar Gracián, was a Spanish Jesuit and baroque prose writer and philosopher.

Keys To Power

“This is because your interest is too strong, it makes people awkward, even fearful. Uncontrollable desire makes you seem weak and unworthy.”

This psychological phenomenon can be demonstrated in relationships; most men and women will have experienced this at least once as a lesson learnt on to how to cultivate desire and attraction. We learn in nearly any social setting in life that coming on too strong, too aggressive and exhibiting excessive desire, or “thirst”, as some generations may call it, often repels people.

Greene’s response to this is as follows:

“You need to turn your back on what you want, show your contempt and disdain. This is the kind of powerful response that will drive your targets crazy. They will respond with a desire of their own, which is simply to have an effect on you — perhaps to possess you, perhaps to hurt you. If they want to possess you, you have successfully completed the first step of seduction. If they want to hurt you, you have unsettled them and made them play by your rules (see Laws 8 and 39).”

“Contempt is the prerogative of the king. Where his eyes turn, what he decides to see, is what has reality, what he ignores and turns his bark on is as good as dead.

That was the weapon of King Louis XIV — if lie did not like you, he acted as if you were not there, maintaining his superiority by cutting off the dynamic of interaction. This is the power you have when you play the card of contempt, periodically showing people that you can do without them.”

Louis XIV, known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, was a monarch of the House of Bourbon who reigned as King of France from 1643 until his death in 1715.

Additionally, if your someone who is often taken granted, by occasionally showing contempt and disdain — i.e. by backing off for a period of time, your true worth and value may be brought to light. OR, you may exposed that the reality that you actually had less value and worth than was previously thought. So this law can help reveal who you are as a person and your place within a relationship or workplace setting.

“It is tempting to want to fix our mistakes, but the harder we try, the worse we often make them. It is sometimes more politic to leave them alone.”

“In 1971, when the New’ York Times published the Pentagon Papers, a group of government documents about the history of U.S. involvement in Indochina, Henry Kissinger erupted into a volcanic rage. Furious about the Nixon administration’s vulnerability to this kind of damaging leak, he made recommendations that eventually led to the formation of a called the Plumbers to plug the leaks. This was the unit that later broke into Democratic Party offices in the Watergate Hotel, setting off the chain of events that led to Nixon’s downfall. In reality the publication of the Pentagon Papers was not a serious threat to the administration, but Kissinger’s reaction made it a big deal. In trying to fix one problem, he created an other: a paranoia for security that in the end was much more destructive to the government. Had he ignored the Pentagon Papers, the scandal they had created would eventually have blown over.”

Instead of inadvertently focusing attention on a problem, making it seem worse by publicizing how much concern and anxiety it is causing you. It is often far wiser to play the contemptuous aristocrat, not deigning to acknowledge the problem’s existence.

There are several ways to execute this strategy.

1. The sour-grapes approach.

“If there is something you want but that you realize you cannot have, the worst thing you can is draw attention to your disappointment by complaining about it. An infinitely more powerful tactic is to act as if it never really interested you in the first place.”

While I wholeheartedly agree that complaining and dwelling on disappointments is a waste of time and energy, the latter point on feigning interest must be used tactfully and cautiously.

2. When you are attacked by an inferior, deflect people’s attention by making it clear that the attack has not even registered.

“Look away, or answer sweetly, showing how little the attack concerns you. Similarly, when you yourself have committed a blunder, the best response is often to make less of your mistake by treating it lightly. Among equals this tactic might backfire: Your indifference could make you seem callous. But with a “master”, if you act quickly and without great fuss, it can work to great effect: You bypass his angry response, save him the time and energy he would waste by brooding over it, and allow him the opportunity to display his own lack of pettiness publicly.”

“The Renaissance writer Pietro Aretino often boasted of his aristocratic lineage, which was, of course, a fiction, since he was actually the son of a shoemaker. When an enemy of his finally revealed the embarrassing truth, word quickly spread, and soon all of Venice was aghast at Aretino’s lies.”

Pietro Aretino was an Italian author, playwright, poet, satirist and blackmailer, who wielded influence on contemporary art and politics and developed modern literary pornography.

Put yourselves in Aretino’s shoes. Imagine someone caught you out in one of the biggest lies of your life. What would you do?

“Had he tried to defend himself, he would have only dragged himself down. His response was masterful: He announced that he was indeed the son of a shoe maker, but this only proved his greatness, since he had risen from the lowest stratum of society to its very pinnacle. From then on he never mentioned his previous lie, trumpeting instead his new position on the matter of his ancestry.”


“You must play the card of contempt with care and delicacy. Most small troubles will vanish on their own if you leave them be; but some ill grow and fester unless you attend to them. Ignore a person of inferior stature and the next time you look he has become a serious rival, and your contempt has made him vengeful as well”.

“Learn to distinguish between the potentially disastrous and the mildly irritating, the nuisance that will quietly go away on its own. In either case, though, never completely take your eye off it. As long as it is alive it can smolder and spark into life”.

Originally Posted

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

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