Law 5: So Much Depends On Reputation Guard It With Your Life

The 48 Laws Of Power Summary Series


“Reputation is the cornerstone of power: through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once it slips however you are vulnerable and will be attacked on all sides. Make your reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.”

Observance Of The Law

The following story is from ‘China’s War of the Three Kingdoms’ (A.D. 207–265). During the war there was a great general named Chuko Liang.

Chuko Liang

Leading the huge forces of the Shu Kingdom Chuko dispatched his army while he rested in a small town with only a handful of soldiers. Suddenly he was told that a force of 150,000 troops under Sima Yi was approaching.

Sima Yi, was a general and politician of the state of Cao Wei in the Three Kingdoms period.

With only 100 men to defend him most would think Chuko Liang’s situation was to end in a hasty death. But Chuko wasn’t like most other leaders, he didn’t lament his fate nor waste time trying to figure out how he had been caught. Instead he ordered his troops to take down their flags, throw up the city gates and hide. Meanwhile Chuko took a seat on the most visible part of the city wall wearing a Taoist robe. He lit some incense, strummed his lute, and began to chant. Minutes later he could see the vast enemy army approaching — an endless phalanx of soldiers.

Pretending not to notice he continued to sing and play the lute. Soon the army stood at the town gates. At it’s head was Simi Yi, who instantly recognised the man on the wall. Even so, as his soldiers itched to enter the unguarded town through the open gates, Sima Yi hesitated, he held them back, and studied Liang on the wall and proceeded to order an immediate and speedy retreat... Why would Sima Yi order a retreat when he had such a sizable advantage?


Simi Yi had fought Chuko Liang dozens of times, so he knew him well. So when he arrived to find Chuko sitting at the head of his gate with no army behind him he was stunned. The man was obviously taunting him daring him to walk into a trap, that didn’t exist. The game was so obvious that for the one moment it crossed Yi’s mind that Liang actually was alone and desperate. But so great was his fear of Liang that he dared not risk finding out.

Chuko Liang was commonly known throughout Asia as ‘the sleeping dragon’. He was known for this by turning previous traitors into his own puppets for power and capturing cities by tricking his enemies. Chuko cultivated a reputation of being the cleverest man in China. One who always had a trick up his sleeve. This reputation was as powerful as any weapon, it struck fear into his enemy.

Such is the power of reputation. It can put a vast army on the defensive, even force them into retreat, without a single arrow being fired.

Keys To Power

“In the social realm, appearances are the barometer of almost all of our judgments, and you must never be misled into believing otherwise. One false slip, one awkward or sudden change in your appearance can prove disastrous. This is the reason for the supreme importance of making and maintaining a reputation that is of your own creation.”

This is why it’s critical to be aware and in control of how you are perceived. But how do we do this when we’re relying on other people’s minds and action’s which are largely out of our control? Or are they…it’s as simple as controlling appearances. We can control a large degree of how we appear, which in turn reflects a large degree of how others perceive us.

“Humans don’t have the mental capacity to question every single detail of every single thing presented to us on a daily basis. We accept a lot of things at face value. So when you present yourself to someone as a ‘super high confidence individual’, people have no choice but to perceive you as such. The more people who are perceiving you and treating you a certain way based on a perception which you provided for them, the more your actions and thoughts will morph to match the expectations of the people around you.” … “You have complete control over what the people around you expect from you, because their expectations can only be based on their perceptions. Their perceptions are controlled by the way that you present yourself.” ~ Dre Baldwin

I really like this idea because it shifts responsibility to the ‘self’ and doesn’t look to blame other’s for thing’s outside of their control. While I wouldn’t say “you have complete control over what the people around you expect from you” I would argue we have a large degree of influence over how other’s perceive us through the calculated control over how we display our character. Not forgetting that expectations and reputation can be morphed through personal bias’, subjectivities and the natural ‘filters’ we all have on the world. I see it as a combination of what we present in reality, and what a person already thinks and feels in the reality of their head — AKA their ‘context’.

Be conscious and strategic of how you appear to other people: You can control your appearance to indite certain emotions, thoughts and images to your advantage.

“A solid reputation increases your presence and exaggerates your strengths without you having to spend much energy. It can also create an aura around you that will instill respect, even fear. Your reputation inevitably precedes you, and if it inspires respect, a lot of your work is done for you before you arrive on the scene or utter a single word.”

It’s like the ‘lion in the room’ principle. If your at a party and Jay Z, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos walk in the room, you know the second they walk in the room they’re there. No hesitation. You can feel the energy shift. These ultra successful people all have a reputation of being able to move in a room full of vultures. These are the lions in the room.

You see this a lot in social settings where we have what modern culture knows as the ‘alpha male’. This is the person who has the reputation of leading and commanding the room with great confidence. When that person leaves and when that person arrives, you know when they’re there and you know when they’re gone. Their reputation precedes them and the power they exude is felt in there presence or absence.

Perhaps you have already stained your reputation so that you are prevented from establishing a new one. In such cases it is wise to associate with
someone whose image counteracts your own, using their good name to whitewash and elevate yours.

By associating with those more successful who possess your desired self image you can naturally boost your own just by being in their presence.

“Reputation is a treasure to be carefully collected and horded. Once it is solid, do not let yourself get angry or defensive at the slanderous comments of your enemies — that reveals insecurity not confidence in your reputation. Take the high road instead and never appear desperate in your self defense.”

However on the other hand attacking another man’s reputation is weapon in of itself, particularly when you have less power than he does — so you have less to to lose. However this practice is a lot more delicate, it must be practiced with skill. It must not seem to engage in petty vengeance. If you do not break your enemies reputation cleverly you will inadvertently ruin your own.



There is no possible reversal. Reputation is critical; there are no exceptions to this law. Perhaps not caring what others think of you, you gain a reputation for insolence and arrogance, but that can be a valuable image in itself. Oscar Wilde said it best…

“Since we must live in a society and must depend on the opinion of others, there is nothing to be gained by neglecting your reputation. By not caring how you are perceived you let others decide this for you, be the master of your fate and also of your reputation.” — Oscar Wilde

Originally Posted

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

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