In The Laws of Human Nature, we learn about human psychology. Each chapter is backed up by theories from prominent psychologists.
Like The 48 Laws of Power, this book does not attempt to discover new truths about human nature, or to offer a breakthrough idea that will put all other ideas to rest, it is a synthesis of what different psychologists have discovered. And in typical Green style, each chapter begins with an anecdote that has an underlying psychological theory. By learning about the lives of other people, we learn plenty about ourselves.
For example, we learn that we have a shadow, we have hidden aggressive instincts, but many of us choose to deny this about ourselves, and by doing so, we either internalize this aggression or we unconsciously externalize it against other people. We tend to be too drawn to short-term pleasures and short-term news events, distracted by inconsequential noise, when we should be more focused on long term patterns and trends.
We should know when to be patient, and when to concentrate our forces and invoke a sense of urgency.
When dealing with others, we should learn to do two things. The first is to accept how little control they have over their behavior and to become more understanding of them, the second is to learn how to identify the tyrants and manipulators among us – to know which people are trying to use us as tools for their own ventures, and which people genuinely care about us.
And to find out what people are truly motivated by, don’t listen to their empty words, but examine their repeated patterns of behavior and non-verbal cues.
Finally, we learn how to operate within a group, how tribal thinking is innate and how to avoid its downfalls.
The book is filled with brilliant quotes, Greene is a master at finding the perfect quote for every idea, and there are many ideas that anyone can benefit from.
Wolves are often dressed in sheep’s clothing, and everyone is a wolf in their own way, everyone is trying to manipulate someone to do something – either overtly or covertly. The idea is not to think of yourself as a saint, and to go out looking for other saintly people – it is to understand the games that are being played, and to know how to play those games better.
Here are descriptions of each chapter with links to more detailed summaries.
You are eternally susceptible to the loss of reason, to the descent into irrationality and chaos. Reason is not something that you have, it is carefully cultivated after considerable practice.
In this chapter, Greene tells us about the different types of narcissism that exist, and how to identify the chronic narcissists who try to exploit you.
People wear masks. Every person must adjust the way they behave to the circumstances they are in and to the audience they are speaking to.
You should take the behavior of people seriously. If you see someone act in a peculiar way, do not turn a blind eye, but take note of their behavior – they are bound to repeat it.
Too much presence suffocates us, while a little absence sparks our interest. We want to possess what we do not have – the object of our fantasies.
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.
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.
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. Since this feeling will shape your future, it is better to be more aware of it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To lead, you must sacrifice, you must show your appreciation to the others in the group, and those who are below you in the hierarchy. Never take people’s trust for granted, it is something that you must continually earn.
We are all aggressive, and to try to deny this part of human nature is unwise.
No person can completely isolate themselves from their generational influences.
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
Other Robert Greene Book Summaries
If you’re interested in exploring the darker parts of human psychology that most people ignore, consider reading this short book The Dichotomy of the Self.