Law 38: Think As You Like, But Behave Like Others

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary Series


“If you make a show of going against the times, flaunting your unconventional ideas and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attention and that you look down upon them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend in and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerant friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness.”

Many have found success by contradicting that above statement. But once again, like many of the “laws” in Greene’s book, this law is not all that it seem’s. If you enjoy history, specifically Greek and Spartan history and how we can learn from the ancient wars of our past, continue reading.

Transgression Of The Law

“Around the year 478 B.C., the city of Sparta sent an expedition to Persia led by the young Spartan nobleman Pausanias. The city-states of Greece had recently fought off a mighty invasion from Persia, and now Pausanias, along with allied ships from Athens, had orders to punish the invaders and win back the islands and coastal towns that the Persians had occupied.

Pausanias was a Spartan Military Commander of the 5th century BC. He was a scion of the royal house of the Agiads but was not in the direct line of succession: he was the son of Cleombrotus and nephew of Leonidas I.

Both the Athenians and the Spartans had great respect for Pausanias — he had proven himself as a fearless warrior, with a flair for the dramatic. Pausanias and his troops took Cyprus, then moved on to the mainland of Asia Minor known as the Hellespont and captured Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul).

Now master of part of the Persian empire, Pausanias began to show signs of behavior that went beyond his normal flamboyance. He appeared in public wearing pomades in his hair and flowing Persian robes, and accompanied by a bodyguard of Egyptians. He held lavish banquets in which he sat in the Persian manner and demanded to be entertained.”

It’s clear power and success had clearly exposed Pausanias true character.

“He stopped seeing his old friends, entered into communication with the Persian King Xerxes, and all in all affected the style and manner of a Persian dictator. His army — Athenians and Spartans alike — at first thought this a passing fancy: he had always been a bit exaggerated in his gestures. But when he flaunted his disdain for the Greeks’ simple way of life, and insulted the common Greek soldier, they began to feel he had gone too far. Although there was no concrete evidence for this, rumors spread that he had gone over to the other side, and that he dreamed of becoming a kind of Greek Xerxes. To quell the possibility of mutiny, the Spartans relieved Pausanias of his command and called him home.

Pausanias, however, continued to dress in the Persian style, even in Sparta. After a few months he returned to the Hellespont, telling his compatriots he was going to continue the fight against the Persians. Actually, however, he had different plans — to make himself ruler of all Greece, with the aid of Xerxes himself. The Spartans declared him a public enemy and sent a ship to capture him. Pausanias surrendered, certain that he could clear himself of the charges of treason. It did come out during the trial that during his reign as commander he had offended his fellow Greeks time and again, erecting monuments, for instance, in his own name, rather than in those of the cities whose troops had fought alongside him, as was the custom.

A rough depiction of what the trial may have looked like using a photo of a Roman Senate meetings.

Despite the evidence of his numerous contacts with the enemy, the Spartans refused to imprison a man of such noble birth, and let him go. Now thinking himself untouchable, Pausanias hired a messenger to take a letter to Xerxes, but the messenger instead took the letter to the Spartan authorities. These men wanted to find out more, so they had the messenger arrange to meet Pausanias in a temple where they could hide and listen behind a partition. What Pausanias said shocked them — they had never heard such contempt for their ways spoken so brazenly by one of their own — and they made arrangements for his immediate arrest.

On the way home from the temple, Pausanias got word of what had happened. He ran to another temple to hide, but the authorities followed him there and placed sentries all around. Pausanias refused to surrender. Unwilling to forcibly remove him from the sacred temple, the authorities kept him trapped inside, until he eventually died of starvation.”


The story of Pausanias often appears when people adopt a culture or way of living they were not raised in.

“People who flaunt their infatuation with a different culture are expressing a disdain and contempt for their own. They are using the outward appearance of the exotic to separate themselves from the common folk who unquestioningly follow the local customs and laws. Indeed their (Pausanias) need to show their difference so dramatically often makes them disliked by the people whose beliefs they challenge, indirectly and subtly, perhaps, but offensively nonetheless.”

As Thucydides wrote of Pausanias, “By his contempt for the laws and his imitation of foreign ways he had made himself very widely suspected of being unwilling to abide by normal standards.”

Flaunting and showing off alien ways of thinking can potentially result in those around you conspiring to see your downfall, especially if they disagree with what your expressing. Many also have a desire of something Greene calls, the “foreign and exotic”. Given the context of the story that preludes this statement, we assume Greene is talking about tendencies people have to be fickle and superficial. You can find desire for the exotic and people flaunting their attainment of it in every corner of media today. Most are victim to this tendency at least once. Instead of secretly resenting the world and getting caught in a destructive cycle of pleasure — pain — repeat, maybe we can learn to recognize and quell our shallow desires to serve ourselves and the people around us better.

Keys To Power

Does everybody wear a mask in their own way?

Most people wrap their identify in their believes and values. When they are challenged it’s as if you are challenging who they are as person. You are challenging what this person see’s in the mirror — that is hugely confronting. The trick is to separate who you are, from what you believe. Once you’re ideas and beliefs become finite and formless, you free yourself from emotional reactivity.

We live in a time where anybody and everybody with an internet connection can have blast their voice to large audiences in a moments notice. Before the 21st century, if you believed in something that went against societal norms it was difficult to find a group of people who had similar viewpoints — so you were isolated as a result. Today however, people with the most outlandish and quaint beliefs can locate sects across the world through the internet and find a community. The risk of being ostracized is greatly reduced.

“In the late fourteenth century, the Spanish began a massive persecution of the Jews, murdering thousands and driving others out of the country. Those who remained in Spain were forced to convert.

Spanish Inquisition

Yet over the next 300 years, the Spanish noticed a phenomenon that disturbed them: Many of the converts lived their outward lives as Catholics, yet somehow managed to retain their Jewish beliefs, practicing the religion in private. Many of these so-called Marranos (originally a derogatory term, being the Spanish for “pig”) attained high levels of government office, married into the nobility, and gave every appearance of Christian piety, only to be discovered late in life as practicing Jews.

Over the years they mastered the art of dissimulation, displaying crucifixes liberally, giving generous gifts to churches, even occasionally making anti-Semitic remarks — and all the while maintaining their inner freedom and beliefs. In society, the Marranos knew, outward appearances are what matter.” Hence, executing this law.

Whether we admit or not, everyone wears a mask and changes their mask to suit their changing environments. Some make this decision consciously, some do it unconsciously.


“Lyndon Johnson would sometimes hold meetings while he sat on the toilet. Since no one else either could or would claim such a “privilege,” Johnson was showing people that he did not have to observe the protocols and niceties of others. The Roman emperor.”

Lyndon Baines Johnson, often referred to as LBJ, was an American politician who served as the 36th President of the United States from 1963 to 1969, assuming the office after serving as the 37th Vice President of the United States from 1961 to 1963.

Finally, there is always a place for the gadfly, the person who success fully defies custom and mocks what has grown lifeless in a culture.

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s.

Oscar Wilde, for example, achieved considerable social power on this foundation: He made it clear that he disdained the usual ways of doing things, and when he gave public readings his audiences not only expected him to insult them but welcomed it. We notice, however, that his eccentric role eventually destroyed him. Even had he come to a better end, remember that he possessed an unusual genius: Without his gift to amuse and delight, his barbs would simply have offended people.

Originally Posted

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

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