“This means to create a front that will eventually become imbued with an atmosphere or impression of familiarity, within which the strategist may maneuver unseen while all eyes are trained to see obvious familiarities.” – From The Japanese Art Of War.
In an ancient world, Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell (a prosperous land in the north of Westeros), investigated the murder of Jon Arryn, Hand of the king Robert. After months of investigation, as he couldn’t find who was behind the assassination, and fearing for his life, Stark was ready to leave King’s Landing, the capital of the country. While packing his final luggage in his room, Littlefinger known as Petyr Baelish, a member of the king’s council, visited him. Petyr peaked the curiosity of Ned by telling him that he found the last person who saw Arryn alive. Knowing that Ned didn’t want to stay any longer in King’s Landing, Littlefinger mentioned that it would only take an hour.
Ned, then, decided to follow Littlefinger. Stark didn’t trust Littlefinger, even suspecting the latter of wanting to kill him. But after all, it would just take an hour of his time. Littlefinger couldn’t manage to get him killed in such a short amount of time. Yet, this lead him to his death.
If Littlefinger were to explicitly tell Ned to stay in King’s Landing and continue his investigation, he would probably have left the city and mistrust Lord Baelish. But by not going this road, choosing the indirect path, Baelish got Ned to do exactly what he wanted. This tactic is one of the most powerful because, while people sometimes believe what they are told, they never doubt what they conclude. People want to take their own decisions. They want to decide for themselves. Get them to feel like you didn’t influence them. That way, it will be much more powerful.
In August 1881, about 6 weeks after the assassination attempt on the 20th president of the United States, James Garfield, the vice president Chester Arthur received a letter from an unknown woman called Julia Sand. At that time, Arthur was just a pawn of the unscrupulous, power-driven, Roscoe Conkling, a senator from New York and one of the most powerful man on the planet. Conkling was a well-known opponent of Garfield. Conkling tried to annihilate the career of Garfield multiple times, in vain. Arthur was the protégé of Conkling and did everything his mentor asked. Most people knew that behind every action Arthur was taking, Conkling was pulling the strings.
As the inevitable death of the president approached, the population feared that the deceitful Conkling would become the man behind the president.
Julia Sand, an unmarried 32-year-old woman, out of nowhere, started to send letters to Chester Arthur: “Your kindest opponents say: ‘Arthur will try to do right’—adding gloomily— ‘He won’t succeed, though—making a man President cannot change him,’” she wrote. “But making a man President can change him! Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life. If there is a spark of true nobility in you, now is the occasion to let it shine. Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you — but not to beg you to resign. Do what is more difficult & more brave. Reform!”
As the death of Garfield was just announced, Arthur had to become the 21st president of the United States. During his inauguration address at the Capitol, he announced: “All the noble aspirations of my lamented predecessor which found expression in his life, will be garnered in the hearts of the people, and it will be my earnest endeavor to profit, and to see that the nation shall profit, by his example.” To the surprise of everyone, he had no will in changing the course of actions Garfield was trying to accomplish. On the contrary, he hoped to become the president that Garfield would have been.
Julia Sand was unknown from Arthur or any other political representative. Yet, she understood that if Arthur remained the pawn of Conkling, the country would suffer a lot. However, she couldn’t confront Arthur and tell him to choose his own path. Instead, she appealed to the vanity of Arthur, appealing to his desire of being known and remembered as a great president. Never did she mentioned Conkling or the fact that he had to stop being under his influence. If she did that, Arthur wouldn’t have pondered over this idea much and would have stayed the same. Instead, he, himself, came to the conclusion that he needed to separate himself from Conkling and become a great leader.
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” –Blaise Pascal
Let me quote Blaise Pascal one last time: “The surest way of defeating the erroneous views of others is not by bombarding the bastion of their self-righteousness but by slipping through the backdoor of their beliefs.”
Remember: People can’t resist what they can’t detect.
The only successful way by which to make another obey a wish of our own mind is to prevent that command or desire in such a subtle manner that it will be either unconsciously or willingly accepted by the other mind and acted upon with.
The trick is to prevent resistance from even becoming an issue. It is done by being indirect, by mastering the art of misdirection. Play with the appearances. Things don’t pass for what they are, but for how they appear. Few look within, and many are content with appearances. Lead them where they think they want to go, but ultimately, lead them exactly where you want them to be.
“The most practical kind of knowledge is dissimulation; whoever plays their hand openly runs the risk of losing. Don’t let your desires be known so that they won’t be anticipated, either by opposition or flattery.” – Baltasar Gracián.