Law 38: Think as you like, but behave like others


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.

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, and to express their sense of superiority. Otherwise they would act with more dignity, showing respect for those who do not share their desires. Indeed their 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.

The Trick to your Uniqueness

1. You pretend to disagree with dangerous ideas, but in the course of your disagreement you give those ideas expression and exposure.
2. You seem to conform to the prevailing orthodoxy, but those who know will understand the irony involved. You are protected.
3. There is no point in making a display of your dangerous ideas if they only bring you suffering and persecution.
4. Martyrdom serves no purpose—better to live on in an oppressive world, even to thrive in it.
5. Find a way to express your ideas subtly for those who understand you.
6. Lying your pearls before swine will only bring you trouble.

The Truth

1. We all tell lies and hide our true feelings, for complete free expression is a social impossibility.
2. From an early age we learn to conceal our thoughts, telling the prickly and insecure what we know they want to hear, watching carefully lest we offend them.
3. There are ideas and values that most people accept, and it is pointless to argue.
4. We believe what we want to, but on the outside we wear a mask.
5. There are people, however, who see such restraints as an intolerable infringement on their freedom.
6. They have a need to prove the superiority of their values and beliefs.
7. In the end, their arguments convince only a few and offend a great deal more.
8. The reason arguments do not work is that most people hold their ideas and values without thinking about them.
9. There is a strong emotional content in their beliefs:
10. They really do not want to have to rework their habits of thinking, and when you challenge them, whether directly through your arguments or indirectly through your behavior, they are hostile.

The Real Power

1. Wise and clever people learn early on that they can display conventional behavior and mouth conventional ideas without having to believe in them.
2. The power these people gain from blending in is that of being left alone to have the thoughts they want to have.
3. They express their ideas to the people they want to express them to, without suffering isolation or ostracism.
4. Once they have established themselves in a position of power, they can try to convince a wider circle of the correctness of their ideas— perhaps working indirectly.

The Commonsense

1. Use your invaluable ability to be all things to all people.
2. When you go into society, leave behind your own ideas and values, and put on the mask that is most appropriate for the group in which you find yourself.
3. People will swallow the bait because it flatters them to believe that you share their ideas.
4. They will not take you as a hypocrite if you are careful—for how can they accuse you of hypocrisy if you do not let them know exactly what you stand for?
5. They will not see you as lacking in values. Of course you have values—the values you share with them, while in their company.

Authority: Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you. (Jesus Christ, Matthew 7:6).


The only time it is worth standing out is when you already stand out— when you have achieved an unshakable position of power, and can display your difference from others as a sign of the distance between you. There is always a place for the gadfly, the person who successfully defies custom and mocks what has grown lifeless in a culture.