November 11, 2022
Thanks to 2022 HMU Fellow in Ideas David Kirichenko for today’s review.
The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
There are defined patterns to how humans behave. Being social creatures, it is important to understand our own behaviors and motivations to grasp the reality of the world around us. In his book The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene attempts to weave together an appreciation of how humans operate through the lenses of history, philosophy and psychology.
Greene first tells the stories of historical figures such as Milton Erickson, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King Jr., and Queen Elizabeth I who displayed certain human characteristics. Next, he interprets their stories and major life events. Finally, in the “The Keys to Human Nature,” Greene analyzes human traits and offers tips and strategies to better manage those behaviors.
Greene’s intense curiosity of humans’ inner workings brings the reader along on a journey to recognize why people do what they do. He often reminds the reader that to understand history and people around the world, one must first comprehend what goes on in their own mind. Often, our journey through life is a battle of learning to become rational and acquiring wisdom to counteract our own animal nature.
Greene argues that humans are irrational for thinking that they are rational. The author advises the reader to be reflective, be honest with themselves regarding their strengths and weaknesses, and not be judgmental in the process. Each chapter of the book encourages the reader to learn about human nature and begin to understand themselves and those around them, evidencing why people follow predictable ways of behavior.
Each section begins by explaining the ‘law’, then shares a story that supports the theory. Greene summarizes what it implies and shares strategies on how we can build our skills or improve our behavior in each area. Robert Greene’s copious historical examples advise us to let go of the tendency to judge people. It can be difficult to fight this tendency because it is easy to rush toward judgment. Greene asks for open minds which will be able to see people in new ways. Wisdom comes from studying human behaviors, rather than being judgmental or dismissive.
In the section discussing human beings’ need for meaning, Greene shows how Martin Luther King transformed from an intellectual minister into the charismatic leader of the civil rights movement. He also dips into the more distant past for role models such as Augustus Caesar. His use of case studies saves the book from the impression of a long lecture in human psychology.
Greene has an uncanny ability to distill complex subjects into a few simple sentences. For example, in Elevate Your Perspectives (law 6), Greene writes:
“In a world that is complex, with myriad dangers that loom in the future, our short-term tendencies pose a continual threat to our well-being. And as our attention spans decrease because of technology, the threat is even greater. In many ways we are defined by our relationship to time. When we simply react to what we see and hear, when we swing from excitement and exuberance to fear and panic at each new piece of dramatic news, when we hear our actions toward gaining as much pleasures as possible in the moment without a thought for future consequences, we can say that we are giving in to our animal nature, to what is most primitive and potentially destructive in our neurological makeup.”
In essence, the book tries to convince the reader that we must 1) Accept people as they are; 2) Strive to be a better version of ourselves; 3) Understand that we are short-sighted; 4) Know that arrogance after success can hold us back; 5) Try to avoid conforming to group thinking and a group mentality if it will drag you down and 6) learn to use your weaknesses in a positive way. To have power over yourself – this will ultimately give you more power in the world around you.
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