Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous


The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere— everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from—it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people, find allies and mingle. You are shielded from your enemies by the crowd.

5 Dangers That Isolation Brings

1. You lose contact with the sources of your power.
2. You lose your ear for what is happening around you.
3. You lose your sense of proportion.
4. You cut yourself off from the kind of knowledge on which your life depends.
5. You cannot hear what is happening around you, including the plots against you.

It becomes harder to break out of your isolation when you choose to. It sinks you deep into its quicksand without your noticing.

Compare and contrast the lives of Ch’in Shih Huang Ti, the first emperor of China (221-210 B.C.), and Louis the XIV (1643-1715).

After outlawing the writings and teachings of the great philosopher Confucius, Shih Huang Ti made many enemies, and he grew constantly afraid, even paranoid. Louis XIV very early grasped the truth that for a king to isolate himself is gravely dangerous. The emperor withdrew deeper and deeper into his palace to protect himself, and he slowly lost control of the realm. He slept in a different room every night, and anyone who inadvertently laid eyes on him was instantly beheaded. King Louis’s bedroom occupied the literal center of the palace of Versailles and was the focus of everyone’s attention. Due to his absence, Shih Huang Ti’s eunuchs and ministers enacted political policies without his approval or even his knowledge and also plotted against him.Louis XIV knew that if he was absent, conspiracies would spring up like mushrooms after rain, animosities will crystallize into factions, and rebellion will break out before he has the time to react.

Shih Huang traveled incognito, disguising himself carefully. On one such trip through the provinces, he suddenly died. He died alone, far from his wives, his family, his friends, and his courtiers, accompanied only by a minister and a handful of eunuchs. Some speculate that he was poisoned by the same scheming ministers who encouraged his isolation. Louis XIV built the palace of Versailles where everything and everyone’s focus was on him. These conditions at Versailles lasted for Louis’s entire reign, some fifty years of relative peace and tranquility. Through it all, not a pin dropped without Louis hearing it.

Place Yourself at the Center of Activity

You should be aware of everything happening on the street, and of anyone who might be hatching plots against you. Do not feel threatened; this is a dangerous way to start becoming paranoid.Do not retreat and close ranks, to find security in a kind of fortress. Fight the desire to turn inward.Do not rely on information from a small circle, and lose perspective on events around you. Do not lose maneuverability and become an easy target. As in warfare and most games of strategy, isolation often precedes defeat and death. Make yourself more accessible.Seek out old allies and make new ones, force yourself into more and more different circles. If you need time to think, then, choose isolation only as a last resort, and only in small doses. Be careful to keep your way back into society open.

You need to be permeable, able to float in and out of different circles and mix with different types. That kind of mobility and social contact will protect you from plotters, who will be unable to keep secrets from you, and from your enemies, who will be unable to isolate you from your allies. Always on the move, you mix and mingle in the rooms of the palace, never sitting or settling in one place. No hunter can fix his aim on such a swift-moving creature.

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