48 laws of power Archives - The Jose Vilson

48 laws of power

Toasting the President

by Jose Vilson on September 23, 2008

in Jose

I don’t want to have a beer with my President.

Scenario

Anyone that thinks otherwise is, at best, a sycophant with a penchant for reading wishy-washy children’s books. Picture the scene: I’ve just gotten back from work at around 5pm, Kangol hat, tie, pinstriped shirt, chalk-tinted slacks, and the weather’s really nasty. I come into my favorite beer place, pushing through a ton of black suited gentlemen, sit on a stool, and watch the 5 o’clock news, and to my right is the freakin’ President of the United States of America. I order a Blue Moon, and he’s got a Sam Adams in hand. We clink glasses when all of a sudden, his face turns flush, practically jumping out of his stool. Why? Because 5 minutes later, the news comes on and there’s another national crisis, and rather than being on his job, he’s there with hops in his breath and his shirt all a mess, completely unready for TV and completely rude: dude left without paying his drink, and here I am again, paying with my hard-earned money for his own follies.

For Real

Now, I’m making a large assumption that a woman wouldn’t be there drinking a beer, but I only hang out with women who pay for their own drinks these days, so the rudeness factor hasn’t come into play in a long time. I’m also making an assumption that the President participates in the modern moonshine. More than anything, though, I’m under the assumption that most people who understand the role of the President know that it’s not a job someone can take lightly. It’s bad enough our present President thinks he can break out the candles during the peak of Hurricane Katrina while the guy we were supposed to have (the guy that people said they probably WOULDN’T have a beer with) is getting drenched from working down there. Imagine that our President is finding out when disaster strikes on television at the same time we do.

No way.

I for one would never want the mayoralty, much less the Presidency of a whole country. I’d lose sleep thinking about the millions of people I’m serving, the hundreds of critical (and often life-and-death) decisions my team and I would have to make on a daily basis, the billions of taxpayer dollars I have a primary say over, the policies and doctrines under my name, sealing the legacy of me and my whole bloodline probably for the next couple of centuries. With great power comes tons of responsibility, and while I’d at first relish the chance to take the nation’s highest office, I’d never be up for that kind of challenge.

In turn, it behooves anyone with a clear conscience to think about the responsibilities of whoever is chosen as the next President. It reminds me of Robert Greene’s 34th Law of Power, where he says

Law 34: Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one”

Theoretically, we’d say that we would love to meet the President and have him or her be normal, just like everyone else. Yet, presidents are abnormalities. They’re kings with term limits and high chairs instead of bloodlines and thrones. They’re servants to and rulers of the people, and that’s why, when we elect an official, we better make sure they’re good decision makers, because the less informed have a hard time making critical decisions for themselves. We also note that, time and again, when people of high rank or a certain celebrity tried to act like everyone else, people immediately turned on the person, to the point where his or her legacy is completely disparate from the person who lays there, bereft of the pedestal on which they once stood.

SO I don’t want to have a beer with the president. I don’t need to feel any “ordinary” connections with whoever takes the post. If we eat a meal together at the big house, that’s cool. If the Prez wants to watch a game at Yankee Stadium with me next year (and hook a brotha up with 2 or 3 extra tickets), then by all means, let’s do that. But seriously, you really think I want to know that the leader I helped elect (or not) is out there somewhere, imbibing when there’s so much work to be done for this country? My tax dollars are going to that?

No thanks. I won’t be toasting to that.

jose, who can’t wait to go to Coming Back Together in Syracuse this week …

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Laws of Power Revisited

by Jose Vilson on September 22, 2008

in Jose

When I last discussed the acclaimed 48 Laws of Power, I was still heavily entrenched in the workings of Mao, Bismarck, Talleyrand, and Lola Montez, and thus found myself quickly able to apply my readings into my daily work as a math teacher in the NYC public school system. It became especially apparent after talking to a cluster of well-known bloggers personally that these 48 Laws not only apply in the classroom but when dealing with administrators and other teachers. Let’s recap what my list of my favorite laws of power (full list here):

Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions
Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary
Law 5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life
Law 9: Win through your Actions, Never through Argument
Law 13: When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude
Law 17: Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following
Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness
Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End
Law 30: Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless
Law 31: Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal
Law 34: Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one
Law 35: Master the Art of Timing
Law 36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have; Ignoring Them Is The Best Revenge
Law 44: Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

Again, at that point, I thought I’d only mastered #3, 4, 9, 27, 30, 33, but according to some, I got a lot more down by now. I just want to highlight a few of the original 48, as reading through some of the conversations around the blogosphere leave me wondering whether 48 Laws of Power should be required in all those cool teacher education programs so many of us have dichotomous opinions about. These laws as far as educators (and anyone really) are concerned fall under 3 categories: pre-event, during-event, and post-event.

Pre-Event (#3, 5, 28, 34)

Before I even walk into the classroom, whether I have a lesson plan ready for the students or not (I usually do, but I have rough nights like other humans), I should at least come into the classroom ready to teach my students. I know what the students think of me, but I get to form that with a) a built reputation b) formlessness so they don’t get too comfortable and c) a vision for how you want to be perceived. The worst any teacher, new or otherwise, could ever do for themselves is to not believe in the persona they’ve established. If you’re the cool and fun teacher, then know what that comes with. If you’re the strict disciplinarian who doesn’t want anyone talking, then you should reflect that. Once I let the students dictate who I am, I’ve lost it. The topic of management (classroom or otherwise) has literally blocks of books dedicated to it, but only the good ones address this: my soul (or inner energy) determines whether I’m convincing in my role or not.

During-Event (#4, 9, 13, 17, 29, 30, 44)

During class, we need to stay focused on the task. That goes without saying. However, people often mistake nastiness for structure. My lessons are supplemented by my mannerisms. For instance, teachers’ questioning techniques help the students come up with their own thoughts about how to solve problems. Students get mad at first because they’re used to getting the answer straight away, but the more questions I ask, the more they’re forced to think about the questions I’m asking. In other words, I’m saying less than necessary. Also note that students often invite me to argue, and my response is always task-related. I always say, “Is it about math?” or “What’s your question related to the math?” Sounds a bit Draconian, but during the 42 or so minutes I have them, I don’t have time to waste and they shouldn’t feel that way either. If it’s not about math, they know not to bother me. If I can dead a conflict in a matter of seconds, I do it before other students gain courage to try anything with me.

Post-Event (#27, 31, 35, 36)

The crucible of my reputation and what happens in the classroom often comes with what I did and do after class, and the events not having to do with the classroom. If they asked me to showcase some poetry, I did,  and they’ll totally ate that up. If I see a student in need of a serious conversation or just a pat on the shoulder, I reach out and make it happen, still maintaining my teacher voice and face, but I invite them into my experiences, often empathizing with them a little. The little things I do and say as they’re walking out of class, and the way I approach students in the hallway and even the students I’ve had in previous classes make them evangelists. They’ll carry the message more than my voice ever could. I still have students who I had last year come by and visit even if they didn’t do very well the year before. Children have a strong intuition about who cares about them and who doesn’t, and no amount of experience, pedagogy, or Jedi mind tricks can dissuade children from knowing whether or not I’m in the job for social prestige (typically known as the “save the children” people) or if I really believe in students’ achievement.

The Adults

Oh, and before I forget, this also works with the adults around me too. I take the time to interact and get to know my fellow teachers and staff, but I don’t get stuck to any one. Some people usually did favors for me so they can look better, not because they were totally and genuinely interested in helping me. I never give too much away about myself, and I especially don’t tell anyone my true opinions about anyone in the building unless I’m 99% sure they won’t betray my trust. The job is hard enough with the students, but sometimes the adults reflect the worst of their own students’ behaviors. I always keep a foot above the fray, never too far from the madness, but with enough breathing room where I won’t be suffocated.

What Now?

As I’m moving up, more people have become aware of my extra-curricular activities (i.e. this one), and I’m fine with it. Following the 48 Laws of Power, I’ve also made myself invaluable to the school community. The best teachers in the school follow these laws quickly and effortlessly. Something we can all take heed from. Now, there’s a hint of amoral Machavellianism in the book, but our sense of morality varies from person to person.

My first recommendation, before picking up the book of course, is to think deeply not about you are, but the person you want to be. Make every action in that classroom reflective of that. There are a lot more factors that determine how the classroom will work (supportive staff, training, children’s background, the amount of sugar they had that morning), but you can’t go into a situation with that sort of fatalism.

It’s your power. Your move.

jose, who will follow this up with a post I started on Twitter a few days ago …

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48 Laws of Education

by Jose Vilson on August 21, 2007

48 Laws of PowerBelieve it or not, I’m a peaceful guy. I have some rather strong opinions and people believe that’s belligerence, but it’s really not. It’s just the honest truth. Yet I’ve always found myself thinking much the way a war strategist does. I detach myself from my own feelings about a certain situation and put myself into the mind frame of the other person. It’s a survival technique I’ve learned to hone since I started my second year of teaching.

I think the master mentality came right after I had an issue with a certain administrator regarding bulletin boards. I got frustrated, mad, tired, angered, bitter, pissed, and not so good at all once. It’s something that every teacher who’s got an ounce of rebellion in them has to go through, so I calmed down a bit. Some people turn to a poem, a quote, or some advice from an elder teacher. I turned to Robert Greene.

Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power (one of my favorite books ever) helped me hone in on the issues within and outside of my classroom. I read it before for leisure, but in the context of the conflict I was having with said administrator, I took down every law of power that I thought would get me through my day. Some of them, I apply rather often, and some I need to remind myself to do.

On the back of my grade book, I have this sheet with the following laws:

Daily Laws of Power (In The Classroom)

Law 3: Conceal your Intentions
Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary
Law 5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life
Law 9: Win through your Actions, Never through Argument
Law 13: When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude
Law 17: Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following
Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness
Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End
Law 30: Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless
Law 31: Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal
Law 34: Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one
Law 35: Master the Art of Timing
Law 36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have; Ignoring Them Is The Best Revenge
Law 44: Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

The ones I already did on a daily basis:

#3, 4, 9, 27, 30, 33

The other ones I didn’t do as well on, and I felt I needed to work on. A lot of these seem rather callous, but if looked at in the proper perspective, they can be rather useful in a classroom setting, especially dealing with peers. For instance, #34 is exactly what we’re told to do from day 1. Teachers have no business acting like the kids’ friends or their equal for at least 7-8 months, if ever. When a teacher does that, they’re often the ones with the craziest classroom. #35 is the “workshop model” (i.e. we have to beware of the timing in our lesson plans, but also in our responses to our kids).

Now, in preparation for the next challenge in becoming a master teacher, I turn back to these laws, and get back into that perspective. Some in my field might call it ridiculous, but I choose to call it avant-garde. Much of the relationships we have in the educational setting have scary similarities to politics, corporate or otherwise. With the direction schools have headed in for the last 15-20 years of (at least) my lifetime, understanding these laws might even help teachers survive this concrete jungle.

jose, who has more on rebellion soon

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