The Laws of Human Nature
by Robert Greene
- Personal Development
- Ashto =
- Jonesy =
The Laws of Human Nature
Our new #1 best book we’ve ever read! This book is all about recognizing people’s behavior and understand why they do what they do. By using this book, we hope to firstly acknowledge what is going on, to secondly better understand ourselves, and thirdly to understand other people.
It’s such a mega book that we had to split this episode into two parts. In this episode, we cover the following chapters:
7: Soften People’s Resistance by Confirming Their Self-Opinion (The Law of Defensiveness)
9: Confront Your Dark Side (The Law of Repression)
10: Beware the Fragile Ego (The Law of Envy)
Grab a copy of the book here: https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Laws-of-Human-Nature/9781781259191/?a_aid=adamsbooks
Part 2! This book was so massive, both in terms of numbers of pages but also impact, we had to split it across two episodes.
In part 2, we cover the following chapters:
3: See Through People’s Masks (The Law of Role-Playing)
14: Resist the Downward Pull of the Group (The Law of Conformity)
17: Seize the Historical Moment (The Law of Generational Myopia)
Grab a copy of the book here: https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Laws-of-Human-Nature/9781781259191/?a_aid=adamsbooks
PART 3! This is a phenomenal book, all about what we do and why we do it. It should be read to firstly identify what is driving your own behavior, secondly to allow you to start to make some positive changes to your behavior, then thirdly to begin to recognize what other people are doing and why they might be doing it.
In this episode, we’re covering four of the laws:
– 6: Elevate Your Perspective (The Law of Shortsightedness)
– 8: Change Your Circumstances by Changing Your Attitude (The Law of Self-Sabotage)
– 2: Transform Self-Love into Empathy (The Law of Narcissism)
– 13: Advance with a Sense of Purpose (The Law of Aimlessness)
Grab a copy of the book here: https://www.bookdepository.com/Laws-Human-Nature-Robert-Greene/9781781259191/?a_aid=adamsbooks
Summary – Laws of Human Nature
“We are all self-absorbed, locked in our own worlds. It is a therapeutic and liberating experience to be drawn outside ourselves and into the world of another.”
Throughout the course of our lives, we inevitably have to deal with a variety of individuals who stir up trouble and make our lives difficult and unpleasant. What if we could dive below the surface and see deep within, getting closer to the actual roots of what causes human behavior. What if we could understand why we are so compelled to desire what other people have, or to identify so strongly with a group that we feel contempt for on the outside? Let us call the collection of forces that push and pull us from deep within, human nature.
Human nature stems from the particular wiring of our brains, the configuration of the nervous system, and the way we humans process emotions. All of which developed and emerged throughout the evolution of our species.
We can point to such forces that emerged deep from the past that mould our everyday behavior. For instance – our need to continually rank ourselves and measure self-worth through status is a trait noticeable among all hunter-gatherer cultures, even among chimpanzees. We can add to these primitive qualities our need to wear mask to disguise our behavior that is frowned upon in the tribe. This book is an attempt to gather together an immense storehouse of knowledge and ideas from different branches.
Each chapter ends with a section on how to transform this basic human force into something positive. Ignore the laws at your own peril. Refusing to come to terms with human nature simply means you are doomed to patterns beyond your control.
This book should not upset you, but liberate you.
3 – See Through People’s Masks – The Law of Role-Playing
We are the preeminent social animal on the planet, depending on the communication with others for our survival and success. Almost 65% of communication is nonverbal but people only pick up about 5% of this communication. Nonverbal cues tell us what people are trying to emphasis with their words and subtext of the message.
Imagine for instance conversations with people you’ve recently met. By paying extra close attention to the nonverbal cues they emit, you can pick up their moods and mirror these moods back to them, getting them to unconsciously relax in your presence. As the conversation progresses, you can pick up signs that they are responding to your gestures and mirroring which gives you license to go further and deepen their spell.
In this way you can build rapport and win a valuable ally. Conversely, imagine people who immediately reveal signs of hostility towards you. You are able to see right through their tight smiles and pick up the flashes of irritation that cross their face.
The Law of Role-Playing
As we get older and strive to carve out a career, we learn how to create the proper front in order to be hired and fit into group culture. If we become an executive or a professor, or a bartender, we must play the part. Imagine a person who never develops acting skills, whose face instantly grimaces when he dislikes what you say, or cannot surpass a yawn when you fail to entertain him. Someone who always speaks his mind, who completely goes his own way in his ideas and style, who acts the same whether he’s talking with his boss or child – you have imagined a person who would be shunned ridiculed and despised.
We take these skills for granted, but to see them inaction, try to look at yourself as you interact with different members of your family and with your boss and colleagues at work. For people you are trying to impress, you wear a much different face than with those with whom you are familiar, and let down your guard. You almost do this without thinking.
You must understand and accept the theatrical quality of life. Do not moralize and rail against the role playing and the wearing of masks so essential to smooth social functioning. You must not be so naive and mistake people’s appearances for reality. You are not blinded by peoples acting skills. And you transform yourself into a master decoder of their true feelings, working on your observation skills, and practicing them as much as you can in daily life.
7 – Soften People’s Resistance by Confirming Their Self-opinion – The Law of Defensiveness
From early on in life we humans develop a defensive and self-protective side to our personality. It begins in early childhood as we cultivate a sense of personal physical space that others should not violate. It later expands into a feeling of personal dignity – people should not coerce or manipulate us into doing things we don’t want to do. We should be free to choose what we desire. These are necessary developments in our growth as socialized humans.
As we get older, defensive qualities often solidify into something more rigid. People are continually judging us and appraising us (are we competent, good enough, a team player, etc) we never feel free from scrutiny – so defensiveness becomes the default to any new and external idea or opinion. We have to look out for our own interests, since no one else will.
We continually find ourselves in situations in which we need to move people from their resistant positions. And we need their assistance, or to alter their behavior. If we don’t do this effectively, people only become more defensive. Even if we get what we want, support is weak and they will still harbor resentment. You might win in the short term (take something from them – money, time, ideas) but you lose in the long term because they close themselves off to further influence.
Understand: creating this feeling of validation is the golden key that will unlock people’s defenses. The law is as follows: People have a perception about themselves that we shall call their SELF-OPINION. This self-opinion can be accurate or not – it doesn’t matter. What matters is how people perceive their own character and worthiness. There are three qualities to people’s self-opinion that are nearly universal:
1. “I am autonomous, acting of my own free will”
2. “I am intelligent in my own way”
3. “I am basically god and decent”
There are a few common ones: “I’m a free spirit, one of a kind” and “I’m very self-reliant and don’t need anybody’s help” and “I am good-looking and I can depend on that” and “I am a rebel and I disdain authority”. Take the focus off yourself to understand and confirm the self opinion of those around you.
9 – Confront Your Dark Side – The Law of Repression
People are rarely who they seem to be. Lurking beneath their polite, affable exterior is inevitably a dark, shadow side consisting of the insecurities and the aggressive, selfish impulses they repress and carefully conceal from public view. This dark side leaks out in behavior that will baffle and harm you. Learn to recognize the signs of the shadow before they become toxic.
See people’s overt traits – toughness, saintliness, etc – as covering the opposite quality. You must become aware of your own dark side. In being conscious of it you can control and channel the creative energizers that lurk in your unconscious. By integrating the dark side into your personality you will be a more complete human, and will radiate an authenticity that will draw people to you.
The Law of Repression
We can read signs of how deeply and secretly we are drawn to the dark side in our culture. We thrill at watching shows in which various Machiavellian characters manipulate, deceive or dominate and serial killers and diabolical cult leaders enthral us all. With these shows and news we can become moralistic and talk about how much we despise such villains. But the truth is the culture is hungry for expressions of the dark side.
Understand: You have a crafted and public persona that accentuates your strengths and conceals your weaknesses and have repressed the less socially acceptable traits that you naturally possessed as a child. You have become terribly nice and pleasant. But you have a dark side that you loath to admit or examine.
It contains your deepest insecurities, your secret desires to hurt people, even those close to you, your fantasies of revenge, your suspicions about others, and your hunger for more attention and power. Your task as a student of human nature is to recognize and examine the dark side of your character.
Once subjected to conscious scrutiny, it loses its destructive power. You can channel your aggressive impulses into worthwhile causes and even your work. You can see that selfish and harmful impulses dwell within you as well. With this awareness will come balance and greater tolerance for others.
10 – Beware the Fragile Ego – The Law of Envy
We humans are compelled to compare ourselves to one another. We are continually measuring people’s status, the levels of respect and attention they receive, and noticing any differences between what they have and what we have. For some of us, this need to compare serves as a spur to excel through our work. For others, it can turn into deep envy – feelings of inferiority and frustration that lead to covert attacks and sabotage – no one admits to acting out of envy.
You must recognize the early warning signs: Praise and bids for friendship that seem out of proportion, subtle digs under the guise of good natured humor or apparent uneasiness with your success. It is most likely to crop up among friends or peers in the same profession. Learn to deflect by drawing attention away from yourself. If you are envious, develop your sense of self-worth from internal standards and not incessant comparisons.
With envy comes the secret desire to hurt, wound, or steal from the envied person: to right the unfairness that comes from his or her supposed superiority. Envy is a painful emotion, an admission of our own inferiority, something rather unbearable for us humans. It is not an emotion we want to sit with and brood over. We like to conceal it from ourselves.
In order for envies to feel entitled to take harmful action, they must create a narrative. Everything the other person does reveals some negative trait – they do not deserve their superior position. But if we can’t see the underlying envy, we are inevitably confused by the hostile action of the envies.
13 – Advance with a Sense of Purpose – The Law of Aimlessness
Unlike animals, with their instincts to guide them past dangers, we humans have to rely upon our conscious decisions. We do the best we can when it comes to our career path and handling the inevitable setbacks in life. But in the back of our minds we can sense an overall lack of direction, as we are pulled this way and that way by our moods and by the opinion of others. How did we end up in this job in the first place? Such drifting can lead to dead ends.
The way to avoid such a fate is to discover a sense of purpose, discovering our calling in life and using such knowledge to guide us in our decisions. We come to know ourselves more deeply – our tastes and inclinations. We trust ourselves, knowing which battles and detours to avoid. Even our moments of doubt, even our failures have a purpose – to toughen us up. With such energy and direction our actions have an unstoppable force.
To soothe the pain from our aimlessness we enmesh ourselves in various forms of pleasure. The only solution the dilemma is to find a higher sense of purpose, a mission that will provide us our own direction, not that of our parents, friends or peers. This mission is intimately connected to our individuality, to what makes us unique.
Consider this ‘life’s work’ something that speaks to you from within – a voice. This voice will often warn when you are getting involved in unnecessary entanglements, or when you follow a career path unsuited to your character, by the uneasiness you feel. Once you hear the voice and understand your purpose, there will be no going back. Your course has been set. Deviating from it will cause anxiety and pain.
In the not so distant past, people’s career and life choices were somewhat limited. They would settle into particular jobs that were set for them for decades, but such stability is hard to find today, as the world changes ever more quickly. Some of us excited by all of the changes actually embrace the new order. The smorgasbord of opportunities by the digital world dazzles us. We can experiment, and try different jobs having the freedom to go where you want. But some go for the stability instead.
14 – Resist the Downward Pull of the Group – the Law of Conformity
We have a side to our character we are generally unaware of – our social personality, the different person we become when we operate in groups of people. In the group setting, we unconsciously imitate what others are saying and doing. We think differently, more concerned with fitting in and believing what others believe. And we feel different emotions effected by group mood. We are more prone to taking risk and acting irrationally because everyone else is.
This social personality can come to dominate who we are. Listening so much to others and conforming our behavior to them, we slowly lose a sense of uniqueness and the ability to think for ourselves. The only solution is to develop self-awareness, and a superior understanding of the changes that occur in groups. With such intelligence, we can become superior social actors, able to outwardly fit in and cooperate with others on a high level, while retaining our independence and rationality.
Chairman Mao of the Cultural Revolution in China attempted to try to alter human nature itself. According to Mao, through millennia of capitalism in various forms, humans had become individualistic and conservative bound to their social class, Mao explained “a clean sheet of paper has no blotches, and so the most beautiful pictures can be painted on it”. To get his blank canvas, Mao would shake things up by uprooting old ways of thinking by eradicating people’s mindless respect for authority.
The Law of Conformity
Mao had the following strategy to enact his bold idea: Focus people’s attention on a legitimate enemy – in this case, the revisionists who were clinging to the past and encourage people especially the young to fight this force.
His strategy had one fatal flaw: when people operate in groups, they do not engage in nuanced thinking and deep analysis. People in groups feel emotional and excited. Their primary desire to fit into group spirit. After the death of Mao in 1976, the Communist Party itself condemned the Cultural Revolution as a national catastrophe: 100’s of millions died.
We will tend to imagine that this story is an extreme example that his little relevant. After all, we navigate the worlds full of sophisticated people in high tech offices where everyone is seemingly polite and civilized. We see ourselves as having progressive ideals and independent thinking, but much of this is an illusion. If we looked at ourselves closely and honestly, we would have to admit that the moment we enter the workplace or any group, we undergo a change. We easily slip into primitive modes of thinking and behaving without realizing it.
To resist the downward pull that groups inevitably exert on us we must conduct a very different experiment in human nature from Mao’s, with a simple goal in mind. To develop the ability to detach ourselves from the group and create some mental space for true independent thinking.
As part of this experiment we must not only accept human nature, but work with what we have to make it productive. We inevitably feel the need for status and recognition, so lets not deny it. Instead lets cultivate such status and recognition through our excellent work. We must accept our need to belong to the group and prove our loyalty, but do it in positive ways.
17 – Seize the Historical Moment – The Law of Generational Myopia
You are born into a generation that defines who you are more than you can imagine. Your generation wants to separate itself from the previous one and set a new tone for the world. In the process, it forms certain tastes, values and ways of thinking that you as an individual internalize.
As you get older, these generational values and ideas close you off from other points of view. Knowing in depth the spirit of your generation and the times you live in, you will be better able to exploit the zeitgeist. You will be the one to anticipate and set the trends your generation hungers for. You will free your mind from the mental constraints placed on you by your generation.
In human culture, we see a phenomenon – changes in fashion and styles – that at first glance might appear trivial, but in fact it is quite profound, revealing a deep and fascinating part of human nature. Something as simple for a desire for looser styles of clothing, represents an overall psychological shift. We can make better understanding of the changes in all areas of society and begin to surmise where the world is heading. This can not only bring us great social power but also have a therapeutic calming effect as we view the events of the world with some distance and equanimity, elevated above the chaos of the moment.
The Law of Generational Myopia
Although all of us are encountering the same reality, we experience it from a different angle. What our parents might take as serious we can often see as comical or odd. We inevitably clash with the older generation that has held power for some time, as they insist on their way of handling events. Many of them often view us as immature, unsophisticated, soft, undisciplined, pampered, unenlightened, and certainly not ready to assume power.
Since beginning of recorded time, certain writers and thinkers have intuited a pattern to human history. The idea that history seems to move in four acts, corresponding to four generations.
Generation 1 – the revolutionaries (e.g 1960s)
The revolutionaries who make a radical break with the past, establishing new values but also creating some chaos in the struggle to do so. Often in this generation are some great leaders or prophets who influence the direction of the revolution and leave a stamp on it.
Generation 2 – craves some order (e.g 1970s-1980s)
Then comes the second generation who craves some order. They are still feeling the heat of the revolution itself, having lived through it at a very early age, they want to stabilize the world, establish conventions and dogma
Generation 3 – pragmatists (e.g 1980s – 2010s)
The third generation have little connection to the leaders of the revolution, feel less passionate about it. They are pragmatists, they want to solve problems and make life as comfortable as possible. They are not interested in ideas but in building things. In the process they drain out the spirit of the original revolution. Material concerns dominate and people become quite individualistic
Generation 4 – cynical (e.g 2010s)
Feel that society has lost it’s vitality, but aren’t sure what should replace it. They begin to question the values they inherited, some becoming quite cynical. Nobody knows what to believe in any more: a crisis sort of emerges.
Then comes the revolutionary generation, which unified around some new belief, finally tears down the old order and the cycle continues.
You may feel a deep need to create something new but you hesitate to go full throttle because of the values of your parents. Instead you force yourself in the opposite direction and put on the breaks. Use the past and its values to push against with force, using any anger you may feel to help with this. Make your break as clear and sharp as possible. Shatter the conventions of older generations.
6 – Elevate Your Perspective – The Law of Short-Sightedness
We humans tend to live in the moment. It is the animal part of our nature. We react first and foremost to what we see and hear. Human reality encompasses the PAST as well as the FUTURE. Every action and event is connected to something that has happened before in an endless chain of historical causation. Whatever we do today has consequences that stretch far into the years to come.
When we limit our thinking to what our sense provide, to what is immediate, we descend to the pure animal level in which our reasoning powers are neutralized. Looking back on our lives, we see that we have a tendency to be impatient and overreact. We notice patterns of behavior over long periods of time that elude us in the moment but become clear to us later on.
Our only antidote is to train ourselves to continually detach from the immediate rush of events and elevate our perspective. Instead of merely reacting, we must look at the wider context. We must consider the various possible ramifications of any action we take and keep in mind our long-term goals. Often, by raising our perspective, we may decide that the best thing to do is to do nothing, to not react at all. Such sanity and balance does not come naturally. They are powers we must acquire through great effort, and they represent the height of human wisdom.
UNDERSTAND: Any phenomenon in the world is complex, the people you deal with are equally complex. Realize that it’s never as simple as A leads to B, B always leads to C, and C to D, and beyond… Once this chain goes beyond your immediate circle of influence of control, you can no longer accurately predict how things will turn out. You can’t predict how other people will react once these changes permeate beyond a certain point
Regain sight of your long-term goals. If everything begins to seem of equal importance: You need a mental filtering system. Create a ladder of priorities in your life, remind yourself what is truly important. Knowing what you want to accomplish in the end will help you weed out the essential from the trivial.
8 – Change Your Circumstances by Changing Your Attitude – The Law of Self-Sabotage
Each of us sees the world through a particular lens that colors and shapes our perceptions – let us call this our attitude. If we have a suspicious nature, we are more sensitive to facial expressions that display any kind of possible negativity and to exaggerate what we perceive. Either we are unconsciously prone to feelings of sadness, for whatever reason we are more likely to pick up signs that promote this feeling. Or we have a suspicious nature, we are more sensitive to facial expressions that display any kind of possible negativity and to exaggerate what we perceive.
What we must understand about attitude is not only how it colors our perceptions, but also how it determines what happens to us in life. Our health, our relations with people, our success. The attitude we choose has a somewhat self-fulfilling dynamic.
Understand – we carry with us traumas and hurts from early childhood. In our social life, as we get older we accumulate disappointments and slights. We too are often haunted by a sense of worthlessness, of not really deserving the good things of life. We all have great moments of doubt about ourselves. These emotions can lead to obsessive thoughts that dominate our minds – they make us curtail our experience as a way to manage anxiety and disappointment. Without realizing it, we assume a negative and fearful attitude towards life – this becomes a self-imposed prison . But this is not how it has to be.
The freedom comes from a choice, a different way of looking at the world, a change in attitude. The freedom essentially comes from adopting a generous spirit – towards ourselves and towards others. By accepting people, and by understanding them or possibly loving them for their nature, we can liberate our minds from obsessive petty emotions. We can stop reacting to everything people do and say.
2 – Transform Self-Love into Empathy – The Law of Narcissism
We humans feel a never-ending need for attention, we are social animals to the core. Our survival and happiness depends on the bonds we form with others. If people do no pay attention to us, we cannot connect with them on any level. Without eye contact, we begin to doubt our existence and descend into a deep depression. This need is also psychological: Through the quality of attention we receive from others, we feel recognized and appreciated for who we are – our sense of self-worth depends on this.
In trying to satisfy our hunger for attention, however, we face an inevitable problem: there is only so much of it to go around. People can be indifferent to us, as they’re too tied up in their own problems. We cannot rely on others to give us constant validation, and yet we crave it.
The Law of Narcissism
Facing this dilemma from early childhood, we come up with a solution: we create a self-image. By crafting this image of ourselves, it comforts us and makes us feel validated from within. This self is composed of our tastes, our opinions, how we look at the world, what we value. In building the self image we accentuate our positive qualities and explain away our flaws.
We cannot go too far from reality because people will bring you back to Earth. If it is done properly, in the end we have a self to love and cherish. When we are alone or not feeling appreciated, we retreat to this self and soothe ourselves. If we have moments of doubt and depression, our self love raises us up and makes us feel worth. We are no longer completely dependent on others for attention and recognition.We have self-esteem.
If mothers or fathers are deep narcissists and too self-absorbed to acknowledge the child, to encourage it’s early efforts to establish independence . On the other hand, they can be over involved, suffocating it with attention and isolating it from others, living through the child for their own self advancement.
The result of abandonment or enmeshment, the child will have no self to retreat to, no foundation of self-esteem and are then completely dependent on the attention of others to make them feel worthy. It is ironic that the term narcissism has come to mean self-love, when it is fact the case that the worst narcissists have no cohesive self to love, which is the source of their problem.