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Book Summaries Psychology

Law 18: Meditate on our Common Mortality (The Laws of Human Nature)

The Law of Death Denial

We don’t like to think about death, but we should. By reminding ourselves of our own mortality forces us to think more clearly about the future, wasting less time on things that don’t matter.

When I look back at the past and think of all the time I squandered in error and idleness, lacking the knowledge needed to live, when I think of how often I sinned against my heart and my soul, then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute could have been an eternity of happiness! If youth only knew! Now my life will change; now I will be reborn. Dear brother, I swear that I shall not lose hope. I will keep my soul pure and my heart open. I will be reborn for the better.

                                     

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Flannery O’Connor was a novelist who discovered that she, like her father, had lupus. As her health deteriorated, her will-power seemed to increase. She spent the remaining days of her life writing and doing so under the most extreme forms of pain. Her admirers visited her, and instead of trying to make her feel better, it was Flannery who gave them advice and made them feel better. Flannery sensed something was deeply wrong with society and she sensed this in the town that she lived in. People seemed to be numb to life, they were complacent and materialistic.

She felt lonely in her final days, but she absorbed life more intensely. Like Dostoevsky when he thought he was going to be killed, he felt each moment amplified, the colors around him more vibrant, and the faces and voices of the people he saw more pronounced. Flannery savoured each moment she had with other people, and committed them to memory, so that she could recreate the richness of those experiences through her characters. Flannery died before the age of 40 but gave the world much to think about. Her novel Wise Blood was about faith in God and the meaning of life.

You may feel pity for people who have died young, but you shouldn’t. All of us will die, and it is sooner than you think. Even living to an old age is a tiny spec of time. And yet, many of us go through life on autopilot, repeating our mistakes, and acting as if we are going to live forever. We have relationships with people we don’t like and work in jobs we’re not passionate about, convincing ourselves that one day we will get what we want.

Yet it is all a delusion. Each moment is valuable, and we should live more urgently. Our perception of time, if we can manage to change it in our minds, can radically change our lives. If we imagined that we had only a day to complete a project, we would do something that would have taken us weeks or months.

By constraining your perception of how much future time you have, each day will bring you more energy and more accomplishments. You will exhaust yourself, but you will have no regrets, you will have lived a full life. Some people believe that since life is short, one should indulge in as many pleasures as possible, but this is short-sighted and foolish. There are many things you can do to help you forget about the thought of death, but these escapes are merely that – they are detours from reality and the truth. But you can only escape the truth for so long.

You cannot outsmart reality, eventually the deeds of your past will catch up to you. If you have spent too much time on pointless pleasures, then you will grow bitter and resentful of yourself for not living up to your potential. What seems pleasant in the moment will not be so in the future, when you are looking back at your life, and since you are always looking back at your life, it is wiser to make your days count, so that you have the fewest possible regrets.

Meditate on death, think about a deep void that you will fall into. Think about the millions of great people who have lived and died. Imagine the future generations of people that will come and go, think about your own life – to the time that you were born, imagine yourself passing through time until the moment of your death. Become comfortable with death, acknowledge its reality.

Let us rid death of its strangeness, come to know it, get used to it. Let us have nothing on our minds as often as death. At every moment let us picture it in our imagination in all its aspects. . . . It is uncertain where death awaits us; let us await it everywhere. Premeditation of death is premeditation of freedom. . . . He who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. Knowing how to die frees us from all subjection and constraint.

Michel de Montaigne

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Law 14: Resist the Downward Pull of the Group (The Laws of Human Nature)

The Law of Conformity

We like to think of ourselves as individuals, but in truth, we are all products of our social groups. We must dress, act, and speak the same. If we deviate too much, the group will unconsciously renounce us.

It offends us to think of ourselves as unoriginal copies of our group, but it is true for most people. Being accepted and validated by others is important to our sanity. We want to look hard-working and convey a sense of style, but not too different. We will speak with the same accent as the group, and mimic certain expressions, especially those of the group leader.

Group belonging is essential to our lives, it helps to think about this at a very basic level.

One man, Richard E. Byrd, who spent months in Antarctica, completely divorced from human contact for 5 months wrote about his experience. He said that he felt that his personality was disintegrating and felt disconnected from reality.

We need to see people’s eyes looking back at us, so that they can acknowledge our existence. It is something we take for granted, but if we deprive ourselves from basic human contact for too long, we will lose touch with who we are.

Our identity is almost completely shaped by our group, and whatever is not shaped by the group, is shaped by people outside of it, who themselves belong to some group. Very little of us is truly unique and original, even though we like to believe that to be the case.

But there are dangers to conforming too much to group ideas as well as benefits. The benefits are obvious. We are social animals, and there is such a thing called social force. When people work in a group, they tap into new reserves of energy. When everyone knows what to do, you find a kind of cohesion that is remarkable and unlike anything we know through your own individual experiences.

But it is less obvious to understand how group-think makes us suffer. The essence of group identity is to think in a binary pattern. That is, to classify people outside the group as enemies. Unity is much more easily created through common hatred than common love. In its extreme, we tend to see everything that is alien to our group as a threat, including ideas. And that is when group think truly becomes dangerous. We become less tolerant of other people and their ideas, and when we can no longer accept that other people see the world differently, we go to war to prove that we’re right.

Mao tried to reshape Chinese society, he wanted to purge all the ideas of the past, he wanted to start with a blank slate and paint a beautiful canvas with new, revolutionary ideas. But what he learned was that the million of years of human evolution cannot be reversed so easily. Within the Communist party, people reverted to ways of thinking that were tribal, and far from free. They were tied down by their adherence to their own groups – a very old idea. Rebellions happened all over China in the 60’s including schools and factories. And the same eerie dynamics were witnessed everywhere. The worst and most aggressive actors rose to the top, the meek became their followers. The result was chaos.

Beware the type of person who cosies up to authority too much. He will make himself indispensable to the boss, so that he can draw power towards him. This type will do lowly tasks such as organizing the leader’s schedule and desk. There is another type that will spread gossip and rumors to get close to power. They will try to find dirt on their rivals and share these stories with the leader to earn their trust. In every group, there are power dynamics that exist, and there are people who will try to exploit them.

Your task is to become aware of who the individual actors within your group are, and what the dynamic is. Does your group reward competence or political skill? Which individuals are trying to get closer to power and are they trying to use you as a tool?

You can never run away from your group, the best you can do is to understand it, and to conform as much as you can, without compromising your integrity as an individual.

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Law 13: Advance with a Sense of Purpose (The Laws of Human Nature)

Law 13: Advance with a Sense of Purpose (The Laws of Human Nature) 1

The Law of Aimlessness

Martin Luther King Jr. had a domineering father who intervened strongly in his life. But MLK had a sense of purpose, different from his brother, who lived under the shadow of King Sr. MLK was more easy-going than his father and was primarily motivated to make life better on earth, rather than in the afterlife – the way his father did. The Kings were involved with the church and MLK only later discovered that the study of the Bible can be a scholarly affair and fell in love with it. He was introspective, he loved to read. His sense of purpose carried him through great adversity and danger, despite his peaceful upbringing, and he managed to change the world. Rosa Parks sparked him to take more risks, to lead a revolution. Eventually, politicians reluctantly negotiated with him. Civil rights laws were passed and destiny was changed.

Different Motivations

In life, you will have many things that pull you towards them. A life of pleasure that includes sex, drugs, gambling, and entertainment will have the strongest pull on you, because it is easy. Money and fame will also try to pull you towards them.

Many people will pursue a life of pleasure, thinking that doing so will make them happy, but they eventually realize that this is a downward pursuit. It is only good for the short-term, it does not lead to growth and development, it does not contribute any good to society. It will cloud your thinking and will only fill you with more angst as you grow older.

Money will have a great pull because it is what everyone seems to prize the most. Whoever is richest is the most successful in the eyes of many people and so people naturally feel drawn to careers that promise great wealth. They want to be able to have financial freedom, to live luxuriously. But what they realize is that the competition for money is fierce, and unless they have a passion for the work, they will experience burnout relatively quickly. They will change careers frequently, and will feel restless, never satisfied. Fame, attention, and recognition are other powerful motivators, but if you care too much about what society wants you to do, your creative potential will never be realized. You will always conform and never offer anything unique. You will grow resentful of people when you realize that you are not satisfied, despite your sacrifices.

Instead, find your calling, your purpose. Find out what draws you in naturally. Steve Jobs was enchanted by the complexity of technology, when he passed by electronics stores, he was captivated. Chekhov was enthralled by the plays his father used to take him to and Satre was obsessed with the meanings of words. Think about your past, try to recall activities that you found yourself naturally enthusiastic about. There were some things that pulled you, as if they spoke to something inside of you that you didn’t yet know. That is how you can find your purpose. In contrast, there are activities that you find too boring, too difficult. They do not come easy, and you do not enjoy them. Likely, you have encountered this feeling with certain subjects in university or in school.

Your unique biological makeup is drawn to things that others don’t find interesting. Gartner defines many types of intelligence, find which one matches yours, and in this way you will go much farther. Because to truly tap into your potential, you need to find work that is satisfying. If you can enter into flow states and no longer feel the passage of time, if you can find pleasure in the work that you are doing so much so that the existential dread that most people face becomes alien to you, then you will become a master at what you are doing, and you will find success of the best kind.

You will offer society something valuable, you will improve, and you will be willing to put up with the drudgery of the daily struggle, and the dissatisfaction with the lack of immediate progress.

Today, we live in a society where most people are lost, jumping from one unsatisfying adventure to the next, not really finding their true purpose. Do not be one of those meandering individuals who are never quite sure where they are going. Have a sense of purpose, and don’t be cynical about it.

Nietzsche said that some people prefer to make the void the meaning than to see life as devoid of meaning. It is easy to become resentful and cynical, to think that everything is merely a matter of perspective, that there are no right or wrong ways to think or act. You may encounter people who talk in this way, but beneath their confident, self-satisfied exterior is a sad, unfulfilled human being.

Whether you are an entrepreneur or an employee, find ways to achieve mastery faster. Force yourself to work more efficiently. Push yourself. If you give yourself a year to finish a project, it will take a year. If you give yourself three months to finish the same project, it will only take three months. When you put yourself under stress, you do better, you become smarter, and you will accomplish more.

Do not be afraid to devote as much time as needed to what you are doing. We have this idea in society that you should maintain a balance, you should go out and drink and have fun as if fun was something you could force. What will give you satisfaction is not simple pleasures, but difficult pleasures. They come from slow progress, from meeting a difficult goal under stress. These are the things that keep you sharp, focused, and excited about life.

Think about two types of armies, one is motivated by money. That is, they are mercenaries. The other is motivated by a purpose or a cause. Which army do you think will have an advantage in battle?

Similarly, in life, you can be motivated by money or a sense of purpose. Money will get you to do things for a while, but with purpose you can surpass the mundane levels of human experience. You can tap into vast reservoirs of energy that are hidden with you, and you can fully realize your potential.

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Law 12: Reconnect to the Masculine or Feminine within you (The Laws of Human Nature)

The Law of Gender Rigidity

Based on Carl’s Jung discovery of the anima and the animus, Greene writes about the dangers of over identifying with your gender, and how you can connect to the repressed feminine if you are male, and to the repressed masculine if you are female.

As children, boys are extremely sensitive, expressive, and empathetic – more so than girls who at an early age are confident and enjoy transforming their environments according to their own tastes. But as both sexes mature and assume gender roles, it becomes taboo for boys to show a lot of emotion while it is considered distasteful for girls to display signs of aggression.

Outwardly, society has made progress in this regard, but inwardly, these ideas are still pervasive within us.

Jung described the anima as the feminine personality in men. This dormant personality is transferred by the mother to the boy, and at an early age, he shows signs of it. As a child, his mother provides him with the projection of this anima. But as he matures, and fears his mother controlling him too much, or affecting his personality in some way, he rejects the anima within him. He attempts to conform to his gender role as strictly as possible, thus limiting his mother’s influence. This is exhibited through hypermasculine traits. But what happens is that when the anima is repressed too much, it manifests in ways he cannot control.

The Emergence of the Anima/Animus

He may become overly concerned with clothes and appearance – even of other men. He may show a particular interest to colors and design, typically feminine concerns. He may act out emotionally, or he may look for a romantic partner that fills the hole left behind by the suppression of the anima. In any case, the results are less than desirable and will bring out behavior that the man does not want or intend. When this man falls in love, typically it will be with a romantic partner that manifests his repressed anima. She may show signs of tenderness and empathy. And he will find that as he sinks into the relationship, he will start to exhibit the anima himself – expressing empathy, neediness, and emotion. But over time, he will discover that this woman does not fulfill his ideal at all, she is aggressive and can be quite cruel. So he moves on, desperately searching for someone who will fill the hole.

In the woman’s case, it is the opposite. Of course, for both scenarios, we are discussing heterosexual men and women for simplification. The woman will have suppressed the masculine instinct or the animus. And the extreme suppression of this will result in aggressive behavior. For example, she may hold too strong an opinion and insist that things go her way in some trivial thing. She may look for a romantic partner that manifests the animus. If her father was domineering and patriarchal, she will look for a rebel, someone with tattoos and who despises authority. But like the previous example, with time she will become disillusioned as she discovers that this man is just as domineering as her father, and worse, he can’t hold down a job.

In both cases, the female and the male should allow their hidden sides to manifest. If you are too orderly, and constricted in your experiences, instead of looking for a broken woman to fix, add some adventure to your life, even add some fear. This will allow your anima to express itself in a healthy way. This may save you the trauma of a bad relationship.

If you are a woman who had a domineering father, who never let you break the rules, your animus will be projected on to the rebel – someone your father will not approve of. Instead, take small risks and with time you will not have such an obsessive need and will choose better adjusted men. 

Don’t be so One-Sided

The central point here is that everyone has both feminine and masculine energies, and if you want to make the most out of your potential, and not allow your shadow or your anima/animus take control of your life, you must allow your repressed side to show. If you are a male, do not always feel like you must conform to hypermasculine behavior. When you are with women, try to empathize with them, and see things as they do.

When you think, don’t only think the way men do. The male thought pattern involves breaking things up into its component parts and studying each part separately. The female way is more holistic, it takes the entire object and tries to make loose relations between different ideas that are seemingly unrelated. Both ways of thinking are useful in their own way. In the west, the masculine style is considered superior, but this is not so in the east.

As Greene explains, sometimes, the smartest thing you can do is to retreat, to allow time to pass, and do nothing. In this way, you let your enemies self-destruct through their own aggression, while you gain more information and see things more clearly. There is much wisdom in taking a step back in order to take a leap forward.

On the other hand, if you tend to think in a feminine way, that is – holistically. You will greatly benefit by looking into things more deeply, the details will help you organize your thoughts better, and give you superior intuition.

Typically, men act, lead, and learn differently. Men use brute force, while women look at the different options available. Men lead by setting a rigid top-down structure. Women look for group resolutions. Men blame others for failure and take credit for their success. Women blame themselves for failure, and attribute their success to luck.

Once you are aware of how your gender influences how you think and behave, you can transcend it and see the bigger picture. This will help you fulfill your potential as a human being and more deeply connect with others.

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Law 11: Know Your Limits (The Laws of Human Nature)

The Law of Grandiosity

Grandiosity is a feeling we have when we are children, it is a feeling of invulnerability, but as we grow older, we realize that we have many limitations. It is best not to downplay the role of luck in our success, and to always stay grounded.

Signs of Grandiosity

Too much grandiosity can be identified. Does the person turn away when you speak to them about yourself? Do they not pay attention unless the conversation is about them? Do they want to show off their accomplishments constantly – taking credit for the hard work and never being thankful for the guidance or circumstances that helped them along the way? Do they speak about their future exploits so confidently? Do they feel that everything they create must be cherished and valued?

The grandiose types vary but what unites them all is the lack of humility that any normal person exhibits. If they cannot laugh at themselves or acknowledge their own limitations then you know that they’re putting on a show. Grandiose people see you as an extension of themselves. You are merely an instrument in their master plot. A tool that is disposable. You are not important to them unless you can be useful to their ambitions.

The Grandiose Child

The feeling of grandiosity is something that we try to recapture from our youth when we felt invulnerable, before reality showed us how weak and fragile we actually are. Sometimes, the coddled child never has this rude awakening and they continue to feel invulnerable – if they had parents that gave them everything they wanted.

They feel that they were destined for success and if they are talented, they are likely to achieve it. This propagates the myth even further. The balloon will continue to inflate until it doesn’t and often, this is what happens to the spoiled type. Their parents shielded them from the harshness of life, when they discover later on how limited and insignificant they are, they are hit by a crisis that has a lasting effect on them. They are brought back down to earth.

It is always important to stay grounded, humble and thankful for any of your accomplishments, to never take for granted the role of luck. This will keep you alert, it will allow you to focus on your work. You must understand that you cannot be anything you want to be. You have limitations. There are certain subjects that attract you, there are skills that you naturally possess.

By being realistic with yourself and understanding your weaknesses and vulnerability, you will not stray too far from your concrete, achievable goals, and you will be more content with the results – even if they are not ideal. You will demand less in the short run. And this will all culminate in eventual mastery,  your success will be much more likely to occur in the long run, because you had the patience to persist. .

Beware of your hopelessly grandiose friends, who have are too self centered. They will waste your time and energy. They will require too much attention to be invested into their problems, and if you are too nice and accommodating, you will find yourself being swept away by their charm, and putting their needs above yours.

Be scrupulous, discriminate between people who want what’s best for you, who want to share in your victories and care about your well being, from those who merely see you as an instrument.

Then, overwhelmed by the afflictions I suffered in connection with my sons, I sent again and inquired of the god what I should do to pass the rest of my life most happily; and he answered me: “Knowing thyself, O Croesus—thus shall you live and be happy.” . . . [But] spoiled by the wealth I had and by those who were begging me to become their leader, by the gifts they gave me and by the people who flattered me, saying that if I would consent to take command they would all obey me and I should be the greatest of men—puffed up by such words, when all the princes round about chose me to be their leader in the war, I accepted the command, deeming myself fit to be the greatest; but, as it seems, I did not know myself. For I thought I was capable of carrying on war against you; but I was no match for you. . . . Therefore, as I was thus without knowledge, I have my just deserts.

Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus

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Law 10: Beware the Fragile Ego (The Laws of Human Nature)

The Law of Envy

In some parts of the world, the idea of the “evil eye” still exists. These people believe that a look of envy can have physical repercussions, such as illnesses or bad luck. Envy is an old emotion, it is tempting to think that we have outgrown it, that only children feel envy, but in truth, we all do. 

Some forms of envy are more pernicious, however – especially when they are disguised as love or affinity. 

The Types of Envy

Greene identifies several types of envy. One is the leveler. This type has a way of playing down the accomplishments of successful people. He thinks that he too is hard-working and has big dreams, so why should this other person enjoy a good life? Why not them? 

The leveler does not want to work too hard because they are insecure about themselves, they are afraid they might be average at best, or that none of their efforts will amount to anything, so instead, they abhor those who do. To them, these people are merely lucky or are evil in some way. No person can become successful because they truly deserve it. In this way, they make themselves feel better about their own situation. 

The attacher is another type that Greene writes about. This person may pose as your closest friend, showing you unusual amounts of attention. The attacher will usually look for people who are doing well in life, who have a vocation and are hard-working, and they will try to spend as much time as they can with them. They have two hopes. The first is the desire to be infected with a greater sense of purpose and resolve by their successful friend, and the second is the secret wish to sabotage their friend’s success in some way. 

Gore Vidal said that he died a little inside every time he saw a friend of his become successful. What you must understand is that envy is natural, it is not restricted to evil people. In fact, it is often mixed with love. Coco Chanel remarked that her husband envied her and loved her at the same time. 

Envy is the acknowledgement of superiority, and some people, who are good looking, talented, and hardworking, will encounter envy by anyone they meet. These types also tend to be naive because the feeling of envy is completely alien to them – making them ideal targets for exploitation. 

Beware the Chronic Types

Other people are born with bad luck, or they are extremely lazy, or highly insecure. These people will harbor resentment for a very long time, perhaps for their entire lives. 

Learn how to spot who these people are. When a friend of yours talks disparagingly about other people who appear to be doing better in life, be careful. They will have the same attitude towards you and are often fishing for delicious rumors they can spread about you. 

If, after telling your friend good news, such as getting a promotion or achieving something that was important to you, pay careful attention to how they react to this. Often, the highly envious types will feel obliged to compliment you but not without some poison for good taste. They will offer you a contradictory congratulatory remark – they will mix criticism with praise, and this will have you feeling a little funny afterwards, unsure whether they were happy for you or not. 

The Miscalculation

Remember that the theme of envy is ancient. The story of Cain and Abel is the archetypal example. The emotion is a very real, and it must also exist within you, to some degree at least. 

Keep in mind that people who seem to have great lives often are suffering in ways you can’t conceive of. Envy is often a result of a miscalculation. Your friend may envy you for many legitimate reasons, but they are unaware of the myriad ways in which their lives are superior to yours.

Do not think in this distorted way yourself, but this is not to say that you should be tolerant of people who consistently do. It is too effortful and risky to try to rewire the brains of people who are dangerously envious, identify these types and keep them at a distance from you. Allow them to bathe in their own cold poison. 

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Law 9: Confront Your Dark Side (The Laws of Human Nature)

Law 9: Confront Your Dark Side (The Laws of Human Nature) 2
Kennedy-Nixon Debate

The Law of Repression

People are not what they seem. Beneath their polite exterior is a dark side filled with insecurities and aggressive, selfish impulses that are repressed and carefully concealed.

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon was a man who publicly valued the ideals of hard work, ambition and resilience. He set an example for others and was able to win the affection of his family and his community. He was a rational, articulate speaker and a formidable debate opponent. He was also affectionate and humorous.

To many, he was a hero, and during his career he made several political comebacks. When people thought that his career was over because of a bad defeat, or because he made a speech that exuded self-pity – as the press declared, he surprised them by coming back stronger a few years later. When his opponents wrote him off, he reappeared more integrated and competent. Across time many of his positive qualities were displayed to the public, he was a man of the people, he was a patriot and it was hard not to consider him a model politician. 

First, there was criticism targeted at him and his administration concerning the war with Vietnam. This created many political rivalries for him that would end up being consequential. The most dramatic shift occurred after Watergate, his name would never be cleared after it, his reputation would be forever tarnished. In his effort to frame a staunch opponent of his, Nixon revealed his dark side, his shadow. 

He had spent so many years building his reputation and trying to show people he was not who they thought he was, but after the scandal, his political career was unsalvageable, and people’s suspicions were confirmed.

Nixon was a needy child, desperate for attention. He cried often and when his mother had to leave him for months to attend to his brothers, he felt abandoned. With time he tried to exude the opposite traits to those of the abandoned child, he wanted to show everyone that he didn’t depend on others for validation, that he was tough and confident. 

Signs of the Shadow

Carl Jung’s work on the shadow teaches us that when we try so hard to repress the darker parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of, they will manifest in ways that are out of our control. Greene highlights the different ways in which this happens. 

If someone exhibits contradictory behavior, that is, they say that they are highly disciplined and in control, but their behavior suggests that they are significantly lacking in this department, the shadow is in play. 

If someone had a sudden outburst of anger or emotion that is uncharacteristic of them – it is a sign of a repressed self that is aching to get out. 

If someone appears too perfect, preaching the ideals of purity and love and openness so strongly, you can be sure that what they really want is for people to be dependent on them, and the dictum “anything goes” surely applies but as long as it is on their terms.

If someone is too one sided, it suggests that they are trying very hard to hide away their fragile self. 

The man who wants to appear vigorous and masculine and boasts about his exploits and accomplishments with women and work is really presenting a facade to conceal the deeper, feminine feelings of vulnerability and compassion. He is repressing a tender side that he is deeply ashamed of. 

The person who constantly wants to demonstrate his intelligence and competence as if he was putting up a show wants to conceal his insecurity about his capabilities. 

The person who appears too friendly and nice, who leaves a positive impression on everyone they encounter, secretly harbors ambitions for power. The nice exterior can be misleading, and you can spot this type by how often they show signs of passive aggression. Look out for biting remarks that appear out of nowhere, or harsh criticisms of others. They may be nice to you when they are dishing out this criticism, but when they are with others, it is likely that you are the subject of scorn.

The shadow is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a natural part of who we are, and it is what makes us competent, interesting and different. But to avoid the repercussions of the shadow, we must learn to acknowledge it and to find ways to channel it in a healthy way rather than allow it to dominate our lives in ways we are oblivious of. 

Discovering the Shadow

Keep a dream diary.

Record the contents of your dreams, especially the general mood and feeling of them, don’t pay so much attention to the symbolism. 

When socializing with people, don’t be afraid to show your dark side. When we are young, our parents try to mold us into perfect little angels because our behavior in public affects their reputation. They will try to control our aggression and ambition. When we grow older, we carry these inhibitions with us, and this is part of the reason the shadow grows. The more we deny its presence, the more it will make itself conscious.

We should feel okay about displaying signs of ambition and aggression in public, it is not wrong to do so, it is human. Don’t be afraid to say what you really think and feel. 

Channel your dark side through creative works.

Authors like Dostoevsky manifested their shadows in their work and produced beautiful pieces of literature that will be cherished for countless generations.

The shadow is an endless source of inspiration and insight – it is what stops you from living a bland, uninteresting life. But you must learn to listen to it, you must acknowledge it and learn how to master it.

Do not fall for simplistic narratives, understand the complexity and multi dimensionality of human beings. What appears clear and obvious to you, a pleasant smile, a gentle remark is never plainly so. Learn to become a student of the human mind and decipher the hidden messages that are being presented. And learn to do the same to yourself. Try to recognize repressed feelings that you may have or pay attention to the ways that you may be trying to overcompensate for something you are ashamed of.

By knowing your shadow, you can make it a powerful ally.

Unfortunately there is no doubt about the fact that man is, as a whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.

Carl Jung                             

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Law 8: Change Your Circumstances by Changing Your Attitude (The Laws of Human Nature)

Law 8: Change Your Circumstances by Changing Your Attitude (The Laws of Human Nature) 3
Anton Chekhov

The Law of Self-Sabotage

The greatest discovery of my generation is the fact that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.

William James

Anton Chekhov came from a poor family in Russia. His father was a merchant by had an artist’s temperament, he drank frequently and took out his anger on his family. Anton had several brothers and his father would beat them for no reason, he said that it would instill humility in them. His mother was perpetually depressed and helpless. Nothing was going well for the Chekhovs, two of the sons (not including Anton) left their village for the city. Their father would soon follow, and in their minds, continue to haunt them.

Anton meanwhile stayed back home where he tutored for money. He was different from his brothers, who complained about what their father had done to them constantly. They felt like victims who had no control over their fate, they resorted to drinking or other vices to alleviate their pain. But their younger brother Anton managed to see things differently. After a while, he stopped seeing his father as an evil brute, but rather as a helpless old man who inherited a bad situation. He became more understanding of people, he also realized that he immensely enjoyed learning. He would go on to medical school and write on the side.

His spirit lifted others – even his family, who lived a subterranean existence after they had been evicted, they boarded a small lodge with other people in the red light district. Unlike his brother who often abused his mother and sisters, Anton helped them do house work. Eventually, his brothers followed, seeing that it was the right thing to do.

Anton maintained this attitude throughout life. One time, he wrote to one of his younger siblings who referred to himself as his younger, worthless brother. Anton told him that while he may be considered lowly in the eyes of God, in the eyes of other men he should stand proud and tall and never feel he is inferior to them.

His attitude shocked his family initially, but he managed to influence each of them, helping them have better lives and careers.

A following was later built around him, many Russians from different backgrounds followed him and considered Anton to be a kind of savior. When he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, he didn’t lose his grace. He marched on with the same conviction. He studied thieves and criminals and wrote short stories about them to get himself out of the condition he was in.

Whenever crisis hit Anton, he always looked for the solution. He never wasted any time lamenting his fate. His switch of attitude at a young age shaped his own destiny and that of many others who came in contact with him. 

Change your Attitude

Greene’s message in this chapter is to understand the power of attitude. The idea is a Jungian one and it is as follows: each person has a subconscious inclination towards a certain kind of feeling. Some people are more depressive than others, some are more anxious, others are more resentful. The same environmental triggers are processed differently by people because each person is wired to see reality in their own way.

You must not allow yourself to be infected with your own tendencies in a negative way. If you are depressive, find creative outlets to release this energy and produce something beautiful. And if you find that some people are hopelessly resentful and will always manage to blame others for their failures and misery, it is best to avoid them.

Some attitudes are infectious. It is not easy to be like Anton Chekhov and change the lives and attitudes of other people, but what you can do is start with yourself and if you manage to keep yourself under reasonable control for long enough, you will be able to influence others who are in worse states.

Years later, in a letter to a friend, Chekhov tried to summarize his experience in Taganrog, referring to himself in the third person: “Write about how this young man squeezes the slave out of himself drop by drop and how one fine morning he awakes to find that the blood coursing through his veins is no longer the blood of a slave but that of a real human being.”

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Law 7: Soften People’s Resistance (The Laws of Human Nature)

Law 7: Soften People's Resistance (The Laws of Human Nature) 4

The Law of Defensiveness

Lyndon Johnson had a humble background. He grew up in Texas and early on learned about the importance of hard work. In his rise to power, he exhibited all the right characteristics of a competent politician. He was studious, he attended every parliamentary session, he took detailed notes – of even the most boring details that other politicians did not take very seriously. But he was not a bore, he had many interests and was great company.

He managed to form a very tight relationship with a highly influential senator called Richard Russel. By discovering common interests, by listening intently and patiently to the man who had more experience than him, and by asking for his advice, he earned the trust of the senator. Russel was one of the few senators who was still a bachelor, and Johnson senses that he was a lonely man, even though Russel would not admit it. The latter would work tirelessly every day, even on Sundays. Johnson was married, and invited the senator over to his house, where they would share meals together. He invited him to go to baseball games with him.

Over time, the two developed a bond that seemed unbreakable. A feat that few other men could accomplish. And this would prove instrumental in Johnson’s eventual presidential victory.

Johnson had a self-deprecating humor that attracted others to him. People enjoyed being around him because he understood human psychology better than most. He understood that each person has a self-opinion, it may be right or wrong, but they take it very seriously. No one wants to be called stupid or ignorant, no one wants to be accused of being brainwashed or incapable of thinking for themselves, and no one wants to be told that they are bad or malicious.

Lessons Learned

What we can learn from Johnson is that our ego really serves no purpose in social relationships other than to sabotage other people’s opinion of us. To win an argument against someone who was older and more experienced than you would not win you any social favors, but only cause them to feel insecure about themselves, and defensive. The more you argue with people, the more enemies you will make. Instead, listen to people, even those who you consider inferior to you in some way. Socrates discovered that each professional was ignorant about all other domains but his own. You are no different.

You have many blind spots. By listening to others, and letting them speak, you get to peak into someone else’s mind. And that is far more interesting than hearing yourself speak. After-all, your thoughts are basically the same repetitive pattern of ideas that only gradually change. Other people offer you the chance to get a glimpse into a vast reservoir of knowledge unfamiliar to you, and even if the person you are speaking to has nothing that you want to emulate or are curious about, you can glean insights into what led them down the wrong path.

Have a flexible mind, be willing to learn. Children learn better than adults do because they acknowledge the limitations of their knowledge. They want to become better, so they are willing to listen to people who are older than them (parents, teachers). If you want to live an intelligent life, you must be willing to entertain the viewpoints of people that are wiser than yourself. If your attitude is that you already know everything, and that there is nothing left to learn, you will never improve.

The right attitude is crucial. Don’t take your ideas about the world too seriously. Treat them like building blocks that you play around with. Some of them you will discard, others you will keep. With time, you’ll add new ones. Never be dogmatic or hold on too tightly to anything, because it will limit your potential to grow and understand things more clearly. Take the advice of Nietzsche, when you are reading an author or talking to someone, suspend belief, and immerse yourself completely.

“He who really wants to get to know something new (be it a person, an event, a book) does well to entertain it with all possible love and to avert his eyes quickly from everything in it he finds inimical, repellent, false, indeed to banish it from mind: so that, for example, he allows the author of a book the longest start and then, like one watching a race, desires with beating heart that he may reach his goal. For with this procedure one penetrates to the heart of the new thing, to the point that actually moves it: and precisely this is what is meant by getting to know it. If one has gone this far, reason can afterwards make its reservations; that over-estimation, that temporary suspension of the critical pendulum, was only an artifice for luring forth the soul of the thing.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

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Law 6: Elevate Your Perspective (The Laws of Human Nature)

Law 6: Elevate Your Perspective (The Laws of Human Nature) 5

The Law of Shortsightedness

 I can calculate the motion of bodies, but not the madness of people. – Isaac Newton 

There is an animal part of you that is highly tuned to the present – the latest news and trends, the opinions of people around you, or whatever is most dramatic. You should learn to filter this noise. Do not associate with those who don’t see the consequences of their actions, or act on their whims on every opportunity that dangles the promise of quick money. Think long term, and strategically, look at the bigger trends, and not the smaller ones. Don’t lose sight of your long term goals, they are what matter the most. 

John Blunt and The South Sea Company

John Blunt was a lead director of the South Sea Company in 1719. Suddenly, he grew anxious as he witnessed the spectacular success of the French with the Mississippi Company. France became prosperous because of the proceeds that the Mississippi Company yielded from the U.S state, and Blunt wanted the same thing to happen in England.

So, he bought government debt in exchange for shares in the South Sea Company and then sold these shares to the public. In effect, finding a new way to solve a major problem that the English government faced: growing debt. This seemed to work for a while. First the wealthy investors poured in, and then thinkers like Alexander Pope and Isaac Newton, and finally everyone was eager to invest everything they owned into this company – especially as news had come that the company would soon be setting up in South America (the land of the gold rush).

Newton invested a significant amount of his life savings into the company but removed his money a couple of weeks later after he began to grow skeptical. He doubled his money. But the frenzy continued, and the share prices kept rising. Many stories of actresses and ordinary people making a fortune and retiring overnight began to spread.

But then things got out of hand, there was a bubble. Many companies began to pop up and issued new shares after the share price of South Sea Company reached extraordinary heights.

The problem was that there was only so much money in England, and whatever was invested in these new, speculative ventures would not be invested in the South Sea Company.

Blunt, who had been knighted, and been celebrated across all of England for making so many people wealthy, faced a difficult situation. He acted fast and got the government to pass a bill that made it much more difficult for companies to go public, and he created new, much more attractive deals for investing in the South Sea Company.

This worked, more investment was indeed funneled in. Newton himself reinvested his money. But an unintended consequence of this new legislation was that people who had already money invested in the frozen new startups could not take their money out!

They had no liquidity and had to sell off their shares of South Sea Company. This had the effect of driving the share price into a downward spiral. Panic had set in, and since this trading company had not even published any records of business, everyone became skeptical. Everyone lost money in what was known as one of the biggest busts in financial history. Like the crash in 2008, people had no idea what they were doing with their money, they were shortsighted, they followed the trend. Even Newton himself followed the madness of the crowd. And Blunt, who was the instigator and the person most responsible for the mess, was influenced by the recent explosion in growth that was happening in France. It was a chain of events that quickly unfolded, each person mimicking the next, and the final result was disastrous.

Modern Short-sightedness

Today we are addicted to our twitter feeds and whatever is trending – whether the news or sports events or scandals. By paying attention to the immediate events of the world, the recent stories of people, we become too distracted to see the bigger picture. We become enmeshed in the frivolous.

But humans are naturally short-sighted. We tend to only see ahead in months or a year or two at most. There is no connection between the child and adult you, so much changes across time that you feel disconnected completely from your past. And so, by filling your time with trifling things, life becomes a meaningless dream where one desire is fulfilled and the other is merely waiting around the corner, but with nothing ever providing you with lasting satisfaction. There is no meaningful connection between your past and future. 

This is not to say that you should be a monk and never indulge in pleasure, but you should always be aware of time and what is most important, to have perspective. Acknowledging the reality of death, for example, and not trying to numb the pain with quick fixes makes you more focused and realistic. You appreciate life more when you understand that it is finite, fragile, and fleeting.

We take drugs, drink, and smoke without considering the long-term effects because our brains are hardwired to respond only to what is immediate. This is because our minds are constantly looking for our next source of food, but in today’s world with so many technological triggers, living this way is not sustainable. By meditating on the idea of death, by living more slowly, we can see further into the future and live more meaningfully. 

Imagine climbing a mountain. The climb is slow and gradual, and during the climb you will see things more clearly, but only if you are patient enough. The finiteness of time will push us to try harder to reach our goals, but it will also inspire us to take a break, and to gain perspective over what we are chasing after.

If you are overzealous, you can jeopardize your own future. A colleague of yours is busy and not taking your phone calls, so you double down your efforts and push him away. He no longer sees you the same way and is now much more reluctant to work with you. Your lizard brain sabotaged a good relationship. He was not returning your call because he was busy working. If you had been more patient, you have would have had a valuable ally in the future. Or a beautiful girl comes into your life, you become friends at first, but then with time, you realize she is pathological and has too many problems. She makes your life hell. What seems great in the present, turns out to be horrible in the future.

By living more slowly, more deliberately, we can see things more clearly and not be fooled by initial appearances, and not be so easily triggered by our animalistic emotions.

The years teach much which the days never know.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

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