In The Laws of Human Nature author Robert Greene attempts to explain and demystify something that should be so simple yet it’s so difficult and elusive: our own nature as human beings.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- #1: Master Your Emotional Self
- #2: Transform Self-love into Empathy
- #3: See Through People’s Mask
- #4: Determine the Strength of People’s Character
- #5: Become an Elusive Object of Desire
- #6: Elevate Your Perspective
- #7: Soften People’s Resistance by Confirming Their Self-Opinion
- #8: Change Your Circumstance by Changing Your Attitude
- #9: Confront Your Dark Side
- #10: Beware the Fragile Ego
- #11: Know Your Limits
- #12: Reconnect to the Masculine/Feminine Within You
- #13: Advance with a Sense of Purpose
- #14: Resist the Downward Pull of the Group
- #15: Make Them Want to Follow You
- #16: See the Hostility Behind the Friendly Facade
- #17: Seize the Historical Moment
- #18: Meditate on Our Common Mortality
- Real-Life Applications
- Video Summary & Review
- Choose the important people in your life based on their strength of character first and foremost
- Understand, accept and use your dark side: both the repressed desires and your aggression
- Use your mortality to instill in yourself a sense of urgency
About The Author: Robert Greene is a popular writer of books on power, psychology, life strategies, and people’s strategies.
Albeit not a psychologist himself, Green distinguishes himself for the depth of his understanding of human nature -particularly the “darker side”-.
Robert Greene is also the author of “The 48 Laws of Power“, “The Art of Seduction“, “Mastery” and “The 50th Law of Power“.
About the “Laws of Human Nature”
Greene has always taken the time to research his books thoroughly. In the case of “The Laws of Human Nature”, it took a whole 6 years.
And expectations were sky-high.
Consider the law of human nature a code book for deciphering human nature.
Robert Greene says that modernity might lead us to believe we are transcending human nature.
But the opposite is true: we have never been more enslaved by human nature as we are today.
Our emotions have only been heightened by social media, viral news make it all the easier to inflame hearts and evade rationality and it’s easier than ever for manipulative politicians and leaders to manipulate us.
And look at our tribal tendencies, which the digitalization has only made it easier.
Now we can find our little groups and insulate ourselves with groupthink and herd-mentality (see “toxic masculinity” as an example).
The aim of “The Laws of Human Nature” is twofold:
- Help people judge others more effectively while making it difficult for the more destructive types to harm you
- Learn your own human nature for true self-development
We are all cut from the same cloth, and we all share the same tendencies. The sooner you realize this, the greater your power will be to overcome the negative traits within you
#1: Master Your Emotional Self
The Law of Irrationality
We think we are rational, but we are not.
To achieve our potential, we need to learn how we are irrational and reactive to the world.
Ask yourself where do your irrational drives come from.
Why are you angry, why are you being resentful.
Greene talks about the 2008 financial crisis, and expands on psychological biases.
The author says that history shows there have been men of great rationality, which are proof that yes, we can be rational and increase our chances of success by becoming more rational.
The longer you can resist reacting, the more mental space for actual reflection
#2: Transform Self-love into Empathy
The Law of Narcissism
Narcissism has been on a steady rise in the last decades and it climbed to record highs with the latest generations.
We are all a bit narcissists. But your goal is to move to a healthy narcissism.
To do so, you Be honest with your self-absorption: don’t dupe yourself that you’re altruistic
Healthy narcissists are driven and focus their drive outward, they incorporate feedback and recover quickly from failures and setbacks.
In his usual historical examples, Greene talks about Stalin. Stalin came to loath his closest friends because he had to play the charming game with them. And why should he be charming with anyone?
This is an important lesson of how power can turn friendships into enemies.
Turn off the internal monologue to tune in to the world
#3: See Through People’s Mask
The Law of Role-playing
Humans are consummate actors, we all wear a mask and we all learn how to lie.
We adapt ourselves to our groups and we are so good at acting that we don’t even realize we do.
In this chapter, Greene goes into body language, but the value of learning language from a book is limited.
#4: Determine the Strength of People’s Character
The Law of Compulsive Behavior
Character is a primary value when evaluating people to work for or partnering with.
Their characters matter more than their charm, intelligence, or charisma.
The strength of someone’s character comes within the core of someone’s personality. It comes from genetics, good parenting, mentors along the way, and continuous improvement.
Strong characters stem from a feeling of personal security and self-worth.
- Can take criticism and learn from experience
- Don’t easily give up because want to get better
- Not insecure about their personal status, they can subsume their interests to that of the group
- Are overcome by circumstances
- They’re slippery and evasive
- Don’t improve much because they can’t take criticism
Try to test people’s character by making a joke, criticizing them or giving them a challenging task. And associate only with strong characters. Put strength of character above intelligence and charm.
Accept Your Character
Robert Greene says that we all have a rather strong and set character by our genes and childhood. Refusing to accept it is refusing to influence it.
Instead, we need to learn how we are wired and then we will have a certain control to smooth our edges.
#5: Become an Elusive Object of Desire
The Law of Covetousness
Instead of focusing on what you want, focus on what others want, on their repressed desires and fantasies.
What you offer should be new, unfamiliar and exotic. Or least, presented as such.
#6: Elevate Your Perspective
The Law of Shortsightedness
Keep a long irrespective, avoid being pulled by new trends and new shining objects. Stick with what you start and prioritize based on your long term goals.
#7: Soften People’s Resistance by Confirming Their Self-Opinion
The Law of Defensiveness
As Carnegie says in How to Win Friends, to be interesting, be interesting. Make others the focus of attention.
Similar to Chris Voss, To influence people Robert Greene recommends you stop trying to push them. Instead, take a step back and assume an inferiority position. Ask them for advice, make them feel good.
Make a small favor for them, induce them to reciprocate.
Don’t remind them of the favors you have done for them in the past. It doesn’t make them feel grateful, it reminds them of their dependence on others and we want to feel independent.
Instead, remind them of what they’ve done for you in the past. Confirm their self-opinion as good people.
#8: Change Your Circumstance by Changing Your Attitude
The Law of Self-sabotage
You are not a pawn, you are an active player. Mind and body are one, and one influence the other.
Don’t see yourself as limited by birth: think that you can grow and improve.
#9: Confront Your Dark Side
The Law of Repression
We all have a dark side, but most of us mask it.
Greene uses Carl Jung’s terminology of “the shadow”, which consists of all that we try to deny about ourselves and that we regret.
But denying and hiding it causes a whole host of problems. Depression and anxiety come from not being our true selves, from always playing a role.
We internalize all the ideals of our culture such as “being nice” and having pro-social values, which are often necessary for the smooth functioning of our society. But in the process, it pushes a big part of our personality into that repressed corner that Jung called the shadow.
Greene instead welcomes the reader to include our dark side in who we are, to accept it and to use it for good and to fuel us towards our goals.
For more on the dark side also read:
You often recognize people with a repressed dark side by their exaggeration. Too much masculinity for example, betraying a yearning to be dominated.
Or too much saintliness, hiding their sexual appetites or their hunger for power.
Here is how to introduce the shadow within ourselves:
- See the shadow (look for opposite traits in yourself, emotional outbursts, insecurity)
- Don’t run from it (the tendency will be to run away: don’t)
- Embrace it
- Use it (to fuel your hunger)
Also see how I used my dark side:
#10: Beware the Fragile Ego
The Law of Envy
We always compare with one another, and it rarely lead to good results for us.
Learn to develop your self confidence from internal sources instead of comparisons. And deflect the envy by drawing attention away from you.
We disguise our envy to ourselves because that would mean we have to admit our inferiority. So we blame instead the system, bad luck, unfairness… Or the object of our envy himself.
Do the following to overcome your own envy:
- Move closer to them (and you will see they have issues and problems just like anybody else)
- Compare with those who have less to reduce envy and increase gratitude
- Practice “mitfreude”, the happiness for your friends
- Transmute envy into desire for emulation and raise to their levels
- Admire others as a sign of human nature potential
#11: Know Your Limits
The Law of Grandiosity
We all have a need to feel superior to others. But the more successful we get, the more superior we feel, and that creates a disconnect with reality that can easily become our downfall.
- Come to terms with your grandiosity needs
- Concentrate energy: focus deeply and completely on one thing
- Practical grandiosity: focus on goals that stretch you but that you can reach
- Let loose your grandiose energy
#12: Reconnect to the Masculine/Feminine Within You
The Law of Gender Rigidity
Greene says that we all tend towards the feminine or masculine, but we have both.
When people go too far in repressing their opposite gender within them, they will leak out in a caricature form.
And it’s often the people with internal conflicts who lean too strongly towards one gender while trying to suppress the other.
Greene says that the hostility towards the opposite gender is stronger in men.
It’s born out of a sense of insecurity and he says it’s possibly because of the hostility men feel towards their mother for a time when they were fully dependent.
The author invites the readers to embrace the opposite gender within us, which will unleash double the power (and will help us better connect with each other).
#13: Advance with a Sense of Purpose
The Law of Aimlessness
Similar to what he recommends in Mastery, Greene invites the younger readers to explore and try different things to find their passion and purpose.
The biggest obstacle you will face in pursuing your purpose is those drudging moments of difficulties, pain and boredom.
Greene says you should learn to get into flow, and once you experience it, you will become addicted and always want to come back to it.
#14: Resist the Downward Pull of the Group
The Law of Conformity
This was by far my favorite chapter.
Here Greene goes a bit into social psychology and sociology.
We are attracted to numbers and groups, we like losing ourselves into the group’s energy.
But we also have an urgent need to fit in. We like to tell ourselves we are independent, but we are not: the people around exert pressure on us, and instead of denying it we should leverage it.
Differences among groups are often exaggerated to create stronger feelings “outgroup/ingroup” and of similarity among the members.
Don’t fall for the tendency of denigrating your enemy: see him for who he is, and learn from what he does better.
We must come to the conclusion that the primary group we belong to is that of the human race.
Anything else is regressive and far too dangerous.
#15: Make Them Want to Follow You
The Law of Fickleness
The Laws of Human Nature is a great book.
And this chapter on leadership stood out for the quality of its psychological dissertation on leadership.
Leadership is always built on a dichotomy, Greene says. On one side, people want to be lead and they look up to a great and strong leader.
At the same time, they resent him. They resent his position, the power he has, and the power he has over them.
People in power though see only the smiles, and they mistake it for unending approval. When they make a mistake and people will be clamoring for their head, they are taken by surprise.
They shouldn’t, it’s just the normal release of aggression and pent-up resentment that is channeled against the leader.
As a leader, you must be seen working harder than everyone else, says Greene.
Greene also recommends that it’s better to start tough. You always have time to show your soft side. But if you start soft, people might think of you as a pushover.
#16: See the Hostility Behind the Friendly Facade
The Law of Aggression
Our culture, civilization, and society tends to repress our most aggressive instincts.
But we all have it, it’s what made us the apex predator on earth, and instead of repressing it, we should use our aggression.
Also because, if you don’t, you will be run over by those who do. Aggressive people tend to obsess over the objects of people, which is a sign they want to swallow him whole.
Take stock of physical obsessions, like anger in being overtaken or always wanting to be front and center.
Case in point with Trump:
Fight the aggressive types indirectly, avoid making them feel not in control, which is their greatest fear.
#17: Seize the Historical Moment
The Law of Generational Myopia
Ibn Khaldun was the first to come up with the idea of “generations” and of “generational cycles”.
Every generation has its spirit, its peculiarities. Like individuals, they will also have their shadow and their repressed yearnings.
Often, like individuals, they swing in the opposite direction of their most repressed feelings.
The generation you are born into shapes the way you are, and presents unique opportunities for you.
Greene recommends you don’t go completely against the grain or you will end up isolated and in troubles. Instead of bucking the trend, it’s best instead to redirect the flow of your generation.
#18: Meditate on Our Common Mortality
The Law of Death Denial
We all try to avoid thoughts of death, but it’s a mistake.
Death is there, whether you like it or not. And to echo the sentiment all across The Laws of Human Nature, Greene invites the readers to use and leverage reality rather than trying to fight it or forget it.
Meditate on your death so that you will make the most about your time, instillling a sense of urgency in your purpose and goals.
Accept people for who they are, not for what you want them to be
Don’t project your emotions on them, don’t try to change who they are.
Watch out for fake illnesses to control you
Partners sometimes can fake or exaggerate illnesses to force their partners to play by their rules.
Albeit “The Laws of Human Nature” is possibly my favorite book from Greene and one of the best self-help books ever, there is still some criticism to be mentioned.
1. Very Freudian
I find Robert Greene to be very Freudian.
Much of what the personality traits he ascribes to childhood and parents and he often invites the readers to investigate people’s past.
I am not too sold on that.
And neither are revered psychologists such as Martin Seligman, who developed positive psychology around the rejection of Freud’s big mistakes.
2. Sometimes Poor Interpretation of Events
In a few instances the laws and recommendations are based on wrong assumptions.
For example, Greene says we should try to better understand trends and future events. Wolfgang was so good at predicting the future, tells us Robert Greene. He even predicted the unification of Europe, which started happening after WWII!
But that makes no sense.
Wolfgang didn’t predict anything, he simply said something would happen.
And on a long enough timeline, whatever you say is bound to happen. I can say today that “Europe will divide once again”, and on a long enough timeline it’s quite likely that I’ll be right (sadly).
Also read: Fooled by Randomness.
3. Too Many Personality Types
If we were to count the personality types of The Laws of Human Nature we’d probably end up close to one hundred.
I love a good psychological analysis, but they seemed a bit too many and the descriptions were not always deep enough to warrant their own category.
4. Personal interpretations presented as truths
The Goldwater rule says that psychiatrists shouldn’t attempt to diagnose people from afar.
Not only Greene is not a psychiatrist, and not only he diagnoses people from afar, but he also diagnoses long-dead individuals. And presents his diagnoses as obvious, foregone conclusions.
I think he might be even right more times than not, but that’s something to keep in mind.
5. Sometimes Off-Topic Information
The Laws of Human Nature gives career and workplace advice (coddle to your boss) under the chapter on group dynamics.
The content was extremely good and I even referenced it for my course Social Power. The placing within that chapter, a bit less good as it sounded off topic.
6. Exaggerated, Unrealistic Historical Examples
Some of the famous Greene historical examples are exaggerated and add a lot of bombast for (possibly) marketing and mass appeal.
For example, here is the example to explain the importance of reading body language: a woman sits at a doctor’s practice and the doctor asks her: “does your husband know about your affair?”. He knew by watching her signs of nervousness and the way she said “hi”.
As plenty of body language experts explain, you cannot jump to that type of conclusions without being wrong more times than not.
Another example is Haig.
Greene says that Haig rose through the rank playing one of his games that he so well describes until the point when he became chief of staff and told the cameras “I am in charge here”.
But just look at the videos and you will realize that Greene heavily misrepresents the facts:
Haig did not say “I’m in charge”, he said “I’m in control… Here at the White House, pending return of the vice president, if something came up I would check with him, of course”.
Big difference, isn’t it.
- Deep Wisdom
I won’t list a hundred of pros because one suffices: The Laws of Human Nature reaches a depth of analysis and human understanding that few other texts can match.
And that’s what I like about Greene: he understands people and psychology to a degree that few other authors have matched.
Video Summary & Review
And here is a good video summary and review of The Laws of Human Nature:
I guess I can count myself as a big fan of Robert Greene.
I loved most of his books.
And “The Laws of Human Nature” delivers on its promise and ranks up there with Greene’s very best work.
Boatloads of deep wisdom and deep psychological analysis from the master.
“The Laws of Human Nature” is different than his previous work, thouhg.
It’s more holistic, and more self-focused. It’s about how we all are, our shortcomings, and what we can do to most past our limitations and develop ourselves.
In that sense, it’s the ultimate self-help book grounded on psychology.
I had many “aha moments” while listening to “The Laws of Human Nature”, and I certainly ended it a wiser and richer man.
It’s almost painful having to delete the audio file from my phone. Weeks after I finished the book, the file is still there.
Whether you want to improve yourself and your mindset or better understand people, The Laws of Human Nature delivers.