Law 42: Strike The Shepherd & The Sheep Will Scatter

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary Series


“Trouble can often be traced to a single strong individual — the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the poisoner of goodwill. If you allow such people room to operate, others will succumb to their influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them — they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating or banishing them. Strike at the source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter.”

Observance Of The Law I

“In sixth century BC, the city-state of Athens had begun to establish a democracy that lasted over a century, this democracy became the source of its power and its proudest achievement. But as the democracy evolved, so did their problems. How do you deal with those, who do not concern themselves with the cohesion of a small city surrounded by enemies, who did not work for its greater glory but thought of only themselves and their own ambitions and petty interests?

Athens is the capital of Greece. It was also at the heart of Ancient Greece, a powerful civilization and empire.

Violent punishment no longer suited a new civilized order that Athens had created. Instead, the citizens found another more satisfying and less brutal way to deal with the chronically selfish. Every year, they would gather in the marketplace and write on a piece of earthenware and ostracon, this name would signify an individual they wanted to see banished from the city for 10 years. If a particular name appeared on 6,000 ballots, a person would be instantly exiled. If no one receives 6,000 votes, the person with the most ostracon recording his name would suffer the 10-year ostracism.

An ostracon (Greek: ὄστρακον ostrakon, plural ὄστρακα ostraka) is a piece of pottery, usually broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessel. In an archaeological or epigraphical context, ostraca refer to sherds or even small pieces of stone that have writing scratched into them.


Time after time, these formidable powerful men; military leaders, political leaders, would be exiled largely as a result of their flamboyant arrogance.

“Within any group, trouble can be most often traced to a single source. The unhappy, the chronically dissatisfied, one who will always stir up dissension and infect the group with his or her ill ease. Before you know what hit you, the dissatisfaction spreads. Act before it becomes impossible to disentangle one strand of misery from another or to see how the whole thing started.

First, recognize troublemakers by their overbearing presence or by their complaining nature. Once you spot them, do not try to reform them or appease them. That will only make things worse. Do not attack them, whether directly or indirectly for they are poisonous in nature and will work underground to destroy you.”

This can be seen in scenarios such as the workplace or social situations. There is usually a select few who tout their superiority and dominance over other’s. In the mean time, resentment secretly bubbles in the minds of those in inferior positions as they plot there demise.

Keys To Power

We’ve all seen this. Allow me to share a real life example.

I was in a social setting where I was sitting around a group of women. As I was listening to them talk and go back and forth, there was this one individual who sat somewhere in the center. Through her presence and charisma she managed to command the attention of everybody in the group. Everybody congregated around her, subsequently she drove the conversation. When other’s were wanting to be reminded of a certain story, they would go to her. They’d say something such as, “Oh you remember when this happened?”. She commanded such respect and authority through her social skills, reputation and personality she was able to hold the room and direct the energy of the conversation however she wanted. Once she left, the dynamics changed and the emotions shifed.

“Dr. Milton Erickson, a family therapist, found that if the family dynamic was unsettled and dysfunctional, there was inevitably one person who was the stirrer, the troublemaker. In his sessions, he would symbolically isolate this rotten apple by seating him or her apart from the others, only by a few feet. Slowly, the other family members would see the physically separate person as the source of their difficulty.

Milton Hyland Erickson was an American psychiatrist and psychologist specializing in medical hypnosis and family therapy. Wikipedia

Once you’ve recognized who the stirrer is, pointing it out to other people will accomplish a great deal. Understanding who controls the group dynamic is a critical realization. Remember, stirrers thrive by hiding in the group, disguising their actions and among the reactions of others. When their actions are visible, and they lose the power to upset. A key element in games of strategy is isolating the enemy’s power. In chess, you try to call him the king. In a Chinese game of Go, you’re trying to isolate the enemy’s forces in small pockets, rendering them immobile and ineffectual.

If you are one who has a tendency to alienate themselves from social groups like I have, be very cautious of the potential consequences. Alienating yourself make’s you vulnerable target for controversy and hearsay. If you stray to far from the flock you may notice they are gone by the time you look back to rejoin the group.



“Any harm you do to a man should be done in such a way that you need not fear his revenge” — Machiavelli.

“If you act to isolate your enemy, make sure he lacks the means to repay the favor.”

Originally Posted

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

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