Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean

You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s-paws to disguise your involvement.

1. Conceal Your Mistakes-Have a Scapegoat Around To Take The Blame

Our good name and reputation depend more on what we conceal than on what we reveal. Everyone makes mistakes, but those who are truly clever manage to hide them, and to make sure someone else is blamed. A convenient scapegoat should always be kept around for such moments.

Understanding the workings of power and the importance of appearances Shop around for the most convenient head and have it served up immediately.

Occasional mistakes are inevitable-Handle Them

People of power, however, are undone not by the mistakes they make, but by the way they deal with them. The mistake does not vanish with an apology; it deepens and festers. Better to cut it off instantly, distract attention from yourself, and focus attention on a convenient scapegoat. Do not give people time to ponder your responsibility or your possible incompetence.

The bloody sacrifice of the scapegoat seems a barbaric relic of the past, but the practice lives on to this day, if indirectly and symbolically; since power depends on appearances, and those in power must seem never to make mistakes, the use of scapegoats is as popular as ever. Besides conveniently shifting blame, a scapegoat can serve as a warning to others.

In fact it is often wise to choose the most innocent victim possible as a sacrificial goat. Such people will not be powerful enough to fight you, and their naive protests may be seen as protesting too much—may be seen, in other words, as a sign of their guilt. Be careful, however, not to create a martyr. It is important that you remain the victim, the poor leader betrayed by the incompetence of those around you.

History has time and again shown the value of using a close associate as a scapegoat. In ancient times, this was known as the “fall of the favorite.”

Choosing a close associate as a scapegoat has the same value as the “fall of the favorite.” You may lose a friend or aide, but in the long-term scheme of things, it is more important to hide your mistakes than to hold on to someone who one day will probably turn against you.

2. Make Use Of the Cat’s-Paw

In the fable, the Monkey grabs the paw of his friend, the Cat, and uses it to fish chestnuts out of the fire, thus getting the nuts he craves, without hurting himself.

If there is something unpleasant or unpopular that needs to be done, it is far too risky for you to do the work yourself. You need a cat’s-paw— someone who does the dirty, dangerous work for you. The cat’s-paw grabs what you need, hurts whom you need hurt, and keeps people from noticing that you are the one responsible. Let someone else be the executioner, or the bearer of bad news, while you bring only joy and glad tidings.

Who Are the Cat’s Paw People?

There will always be people who will do your dirty little tasks to keep you on the throne. This will usually be a person from outside your immediate circle, who will therefore be unlikely to realize how he or she is being used. You will find these dupes everywhere—people who enjoy doing you favors, especially if you throw them a minimal bone or two in exchange.

But as they accomplish tasks that may seem to them innocent enough, or at least completely justified, they are actually clearing the field for you, spreading the information you feed them, undermining people they do not realize are your rivals, inadvertently furthering your cause, dirtying their hands while yours remain spotless.

Two uses of the cat’s-paw:
1. To save appearances, as Cleopatra did, and
2. To save energy and effort.

The latter case in particular demands that you plan several moves in advance, realizing that a temporary move backward can lead to a giant leap forward. If you are temporarily weakened and need time to recover, it will often serve you well to use those a

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