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The Laws of Human Nature

By:
ROBERT GREENE
My Rating:

Greene teaches us how to detach ourselves from our own emotions and master self-control, how to develop the empathy that leads to insight, how to look behind people's masks, and how to resist conformity to develop your singular sense of purpose.

  • To this day, we humans remain highly susceptible to the moods and emotions of those around us, compelling all kinds of behavior on our part—unconsciously imitating others, wanting what they have, getting swept up in viral feelings of anger or outrage. We imagine we’re acting of our own free will, unaware of how deeply our susceptibility to the emotions of others in the group is affecting what we do and how we respond.
  • First, the Laws will work to transform you into a calmer and more strategic observer of people, helping to free you from all the emotional drama that needlessly drains you.
  • Being around people stirs up our anxieties and insecurities as to how others perceive us. Once we feel such emotions, it becomes very hard to observe people as we are drawn into our own feelings, evaluating what people say and do in personal terms—do they like me or dislike me? The Laws will help you avoid falling into this trap by revealing that people are generally dealing with emotions and issues that have deep roots. They’re experiencing some desires and disappointments that predate you by years and decades. You cross their path at a particular moment and become the convenient target of their anger or frustration. They’re projecting onto you certain qualities they want to see.
  • Second, the Laws will make you a master interpreter of the cues that people continually emit, giving you a much greater ability to judge their character.
  • Third, the Laws will empower you to take on and outthink the toxic types who inevitably cross your path and who tend to cause long-term emotional damage.
  • Fourth, the Laws will teach you the true levers for motivating and influencing people, making your path in life that much easier.
  • Fifth, the Laws will make you realize how deeply the forces of human nature operate within you, giving you the power to alter your own negative patterns.
  • Sixth, the Laws will transform you into a more empathetic individual, creating deeper and more satisfying bonds with the people around you.
  • Finally, the Laws will alter how you see your own potential, making you aware of a higher, ideal self within you that you will want to bring out
  • we do not have conscious access to the origins of our emotions and the moods they generate. Once we feel them, all we can do is try to interpret the emotion, translate it into language. But more often than not we get this wrong. We latch onto interpretations that are simple and that suit us. Or we remain baffled. We don’t know why we feel depressed, for example. This unconscious aspect of emotions also means that it is very hard for us to learn from them, to stop or prevent compulsive behavior.
  • When it comes to hiring an assistant or partner, rational people will use competence as their barometer—can this person do the job? An irrational person will easily fall under the spell of those who are charming, who know how to feed their insecurities, or who pose little challenge or threat, and will hire them without realizing the reasons.
  • Confirmation Bias I look at the evidence and arrive at my decisions through more or less rational processes. To hold an idea and convince ourselves we arrived at it rationally, we go in search of evidence to support our view.
  • Conviction Bias I believe in this idea so strongly. It must be true. We hold on to an idea that is secretly pleasing to us, but deep inside we might have some doubts as to its truth, and so we go an extra mile to convince ourselves—to believe in it with great vehemence and to loudly contradict anyone who challenges us.
  • Appearance Bias I understand the people I deal with; I see them just as they are. We see people not as they are, but as they appear to us. And these appearances are usually misleading. First, people have trained themselves in social situations to present the front that is appropriate and that will be judged positively.
  • The Group Bias My ideas are my own. I do not listen to the group. I am not a conformist. We are social animals by nature. The feeling of isolation, of difference from the group, is depressing and terrifying. We experience tremendous relief when we find others who think the same way we do.
  • The Blame Bias I learn from my experience and mistakes. Mistakes and failures elicit the need to explain. We want to learn the lesson and not repeat the experience. But in truth, we do not like to look too closely at what we did; our introspection is limited.
  • Superiority Bias I’m different. I’m more rational than others, more ethical as well. Few would say this to people in conversation. It sounds arrogant. But in numerous opinion polls and studies, when asked to compare themselves with others, people generally express a variation of this.
  • Take, for example, a young man who had a distant, narcissistic mother. As an infant or child, he experienced her coldness as abandonment, and to be abandoned must mean he was somehow unworthy of her love. Or similarly, a new sibling on the scene caused his mother to give him much less attention, which he equally experienced as abandonment. Later in life, in a relationship, a woman might hint at disapproval of some trait or action of his, all of which is part of a healthy relationship. This will hit a trigger point—she is noticing his flaws, which, he imagines, precedes her abandonment of him. He feels a powerful rush of emotion, a sense of imminent betrayal. He does not see the source of this; it is beyond his control. He overreacts, accuses, withdraws, all of which leads to the very thing he feared—abandonment. His reaction was to some reflection in his mind, not to the reality. This is the height of irrationality.
  • Demagogues in politics or the media try to stir a continual sense of panic, urgency, and outrage. They must keep the emotional levels high. Your defense is simple: Consider your reasoning powers, your ability to think for yourself, your most precious possession. Resent any kind of intrusion upon your independent mind by others. When you feel you are in the presence of a demagogue, become doubly wary and analytical.
  • Examine your emotions to their roots. You are angry. Let the feeling settle from within, and think about it. Was it triggered by something seemingly trivial or petty? That is a sure sign that something or someone else is behind it.
  • Increase your reaction time. This power comes through practice and repetition. When some event or interaction requires a response, you must train yourself to step back. This could mean physically removing yourself to a place where you can be alone and not feel any pressure to respond. Or it could mean writing that angry email but not sending it. You sleep on it for a day or two. You do not make phone calls or communicate while feeling some sudden emotion, particularly resentment.
  • Accept people as facts. Interactions with people are the major source of emotional turmoil, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The problem is that we are continually judging people, wishing they were something that they are not. We want to change them. We want them to think and act a certain way, most often the way we think and act. And because this is not possible, because everyone is different, we are continually frustrated and upset. Instead, see other people as phenomena, as neutral as comets or plants. They simply exist. They come in all varieties, making life rich and interesting. Work with what they give you, instead of resisting and trying to change them.
  • The horse is our emotional nature continually impelling us to move. This horse has tremendous energy and power, but without a rider it cannot be guided; it is wild, subject to predators, and continually heading into trouble. The rider is our thinking self.
  • The horse and rider must work together. This means we consider our actions beforehand; we bring as much thinking as possible to a situation before we make a decision. But once we decide what to do, we loosen the reins and enter action with boldness and a spirit of adventure. Instead of being slaves to this energy, we channel it. That is the essence of rationality.
  • “Trust your feelings!”—But feelings are nothing final or original; behind feelings there stand judgments and evaluations which we inherit in the form of . . . inclinations, aversions. . . . The inspiration born of a feeling is the grandchild of a judgment—and often of a false judgment!—and in any event not a child of your own! To trust one’s feelings—means to give more obedience to one’s grandfather and grandmother and their grandparents than to the gods which are in us: our reason and our experience. —Friedrich Nietzsche
  • In the backgrounds of almost all deep narcissists we find either abandonment or enmeshment. The result is that they have no self to retreat to, no foundation for self-esteem, and are completely dependent on the attention they can get from others to make them feel alive and worthy.
  • You can recognize deep narcissists by the following behavior patterns: If they are ever insulted or challenged, they have no defense, nothing internal to soothe them or validate their worth. They generally react with great rage, thirsting for vengeance, full of a sense of righteousness. This is the only way they know how to assuage their insecurities. In such battles, they will position themselves as the wounded victim, confusing others and even drawing sympathy.
  • Healthy narcissists have a stronger, even more resilient sense of self. They tend to hover closer to the top of the scale. They recover more quickly from any wounds or insults. They do not need as much validation from others. They realize at some point in life that they have limits and flaws. They can laugh at these flaws and not take slights so personally. In many ways, by embracing the full picture of themselves, their self-love is more real and complete.
  • As part of this attitude, you are giving people the same level of indulgence that you give yourself. For instance, we all have a tendency to do the following: When we make a mistake, we attribute it to circumstances that pushed us into doing it. But when others make a mistake, we tend to see it as a character flaw, as something that flowed from their imperfect personality. This is known as the attribution bias. You must work against this. With an empathic attitude, you consider first the circumstances that might have made a person do what they did, giving them the same benefit of the doubt as you give yourself.
  • A key element you are trying to figure out is people’s intentions. There is almost always an emotion behind any intention, and beyond their words, you are attuning yourself to what they want, their goals, which will also register physically in you if you pay attention. For instance, someone you know suddenly shows unusual interest in your life, gives you the kind of attention you’ve never had before. Is it a real attempt to connect or a distraction, a means of softening you up so they can use you for their own purposes? Instead of focusing on their words, which show interest and excitement, focus on the overall feeling tone that you pick up. How deeply are they listening? Are they making consistent eye contact? Does it feel like even though they are listening to you, they are absorbed in themselves? If you are the object of sudden attention but it seems unreliable, they are probably intending to ask something of you, to use and manipulate you in some way.
  • One of the strange paradoxes about deep narcissism is that it often goes unnoticed by others, until the behavior becomes too extreme to ignore. The reason for this is simple: deep narcissists can be masters of disguise.
  • Leo Tolstoy displayed all of the signs of the deep narcissist. His mother had died when he was two and left a giant hole in him that he could never fill, although he tried to do so with his numerous affairs. He behaved recklessly in his youth, as if this could somehow make him feel alive and whole. He felt continually disgusted with himself and could not figure out who exactly he was. He poured this uncertainty into his novels, assuming different roles in the characters he created.
  • The key to employing empathy within a relationship is to understand the value system of the other person, which inevitably is different from yours. What they interpret as signs of love or attention or generosity tends to diverge from your way of thinking. These value systems are largely formed in early childhood and are not consciously created by people. Keeping in mind their value system will allow you to enter their spirit and perspective precisely in the moment you would normally turn defensive. Even deep narcissists can be pulled out of their shell in this way, because such attention is so rare.
  • At one point during the voyage, he noticed McNeish’s spirits sinking, and suddenly the man stopped rowing. Shackleton sensed the danger here—if he yelled at McNeish or ordered him to row, he would probably become even more rebellious, and with so few men crowded together for so many weeks with so little food, this could turn ugly. Improvising in the moment, he stopped the boat and ordered the boiling of hot milk for everyone. He said they were all getting tired, including himself, and they needed their spirits lifted. McNeish was spared the embarrassment of being singled out, and for the rest of journey, Shackleton repeated this ploy as often as necessary.
  • Get a read on each person’s particular psychology and what motivates them. Try to take their perspective, enter their world and value system. You will suddenly become aware of an entire world of nonverbal behavior you never knew existed, as if your eyes could now suddenly see ultraviolet light. Once you sense this power, you will feel its importance and awaken to new social possibilities.
  • The three categories of the most important cues to observe and identify are dislike/like, dominance/submission, and deception. Dislike/like cues: Imagine the following scenario: Someone in a group dislikes you, whether out of envy or mistrust, but in the group environment they cannot express this overtly or they will look bad—not a team player. And so they smile at you, engage you in conversation, and even seem to support your ideas. At times you might feel something is not quite right, but the signs are subtle and you forget them as you pay attention to the front they present. Then suddenly, as if out of the blue, they obstruct you or display an ugly attitude. The mask has come off. The price you pay is not only difficulties in your work or personal life, but also the emotional toll, which can have a lingering effect.
  • Understand: People’s hostile or resistant actions never come out of the blue. There are always signs before they take any action. It is too much of a strain for them to completely suppress such strong emotions. The problem is not only that we are not paying attention but also that we inherently do not like the thought of conflict or disagreement. We prefer to avoid thinking about it and to assume that people are on our side, or at least neutral. Most often, we feel something is not quite right with the other person but ignore the feeling. We must learn to trust such intuitive responses and to look for those signs that should trigger a closer examination of the evidence.
  • People’s actions will often contain dominance and submission cues. For instance, people will often show up late to indicate their superiority, real or imagined. They are not obligated to be on time. Also, conversation patterns reveal the relative position people feel they occupy. For instance, those who feel dominant will tend to talk more and interrupt frequently, as a means of asserting themselves. When there’s an argument that turns personal, they will resort to what is known as punctuation—they will find an action on the other side that started it all, even though clearly it is part of the relationship pattern.
  • Smiles can also be a subtle cue for indicating superiority, especially through what we shall call the tight smile. This usually comes in response to something someone said, and it is a smile that tightens the facial muscles and indicates irony and contempt for the person they see as inferior but gives them the cover of appearing friendly.
  • One final but very subtle nonverbal means of asserting dominance in a relationship comes through the symptom. One partner suddenly develops headaches or some other illness, or starts drinking, or generally falls into a negative pattern of behavior. This forces the other side to play by their rules, to tend to their weaknesses. It is the willful use of sympathy to gain power and it is extremely effective.
  • With leaders who are riddled with insecurities that poke through nonverbally, you can play to their insecurities and gain power through this, but often it is best to avoid attaching yourself too closely to such types, as they tend to do poorly over time and can drag you down with them.
  • Similarly, if people are trying to cover something up, they tend to become extra vehement, righteous, and chatty. They are playing on the conviction bias (see chapter 1)—if I deny or say something with so much gusto, with an air of being a victim, it is hard to doubt me. We tend to take extra conviction for truth. In fact, when people try to explain their ideas with so much exaggerated energy, or defend themselves with an intense level of denial, that is precisely when you should raise your antennae.
  • In general, the best thing to do when you suspect people of trying to distract you from the truth is not to actively confront them in the beginning, but in fact to encourage them to continue by showing interest in what they are saying or doing. You want them to talk more, to reveal more signs of tension and contrivance. At the right moment you must surprise them with a question or remark that is designed to make them uncomfortable, revealing you are onto them. Pay attention to the microexpressions and body language they emit at such moments.
  • John Bowlby, an anthropologist and psychoanalyst, studied patterns of attachment between mothers and children and came up with four basic schemas: free/autonomous, dismissing, enmeshed-ambivalent, and disorganized. The free/autonomous stamp comes from mothers who give their children freedom to discover themselves and are continually sensitive to their needs but also protect them. Dismissing mothers are often distant, even sometimes hostile and rejecting. Such children are stamped with a feeling of abandonment and the idea that they must continually fend for themselves. The enmeshed-ambivalent mothers are not consistent with their attention—sometimes suffocating and overinvolved, other times retreating because of their own problems or anxieties. They can make their children feel as if they have to take care of the person who should be taking care of them. Disorganized mothers send highly conflicting signals to their children, reflecting their own inner chaos and perhaps early emotional traumas. Nothing their children do is right, and such children can develop powerful emotional problems.
  • We come to believe that a person who has success must by nature be generous, intelligent, and good, and that they deserve everything they have gotten. But successful people come in all shapes. Some are good at using others to get where they have gotten, masking their own incompetence. Some are completely manipulative. Successful people have just as many character flaws as anyone else. Also, we tend to believe that someone who adheres to a particular religion or political belief system or moral code must have the character to go with this. But people bring the character they have to the position they occupy or to the religion they practice. A person can be a progressive liberal or a loving Christian and still be an intolerant tyrant at heart.
  • You must take notice of any salient forms of behavior—disappearing when there is too much stress, not completing an important piece of work, turning suddenly belligerent when challenged, or, conversely, suddenly rising to the occasion when given responsibility. With this fixed in your mind, you do some research into their past. You look at other actions you have observed that fit into this pattern, now in retrospect. You pay close attention to what they do in the present. You see their actions not as isolated incidents but as parts of a compulsive pattern.
  • You can see eloquent signs of people’s character in how they handle everyday affairs. If they are late in finishing simple assignments, they will be late with larger projects. If they become irritated by little inconveniences, they will tend to crumble under larger ones. If they are forgetful on small matters and inattentive to details, they will be so on more important ones. Look at how they treat employees in everyday settings and notice if there are discrepancies between the persona they present and their attitude toward underlings.
  • In everyday life people can often do well at disguising their character flaws, but in times of stress or crisis these flaws can suddenly become very apparent. People under stress lose their normal self-control. They reveal their insecurities about their reputation, their fear of failure and lack of inner resilience. On the other hand, some people rise to the occasion and reveal strength under fire. There’s no way to tell until the heat is on, but you must pay extra attention to such moments.
  • People’s choice of spouse or partner says a lot about them. Some look for a partner they can dominate and control, perhaps someone younger, less intelligent or successful. Some choose a partner they can rescue from a bad situation, playing the savior role, another form of control. Yet others look for someone to fill the mommy or daddy role. They want more pampering. These choices are rarely intellectual; they reflect people’s earliest years and attachment schemas. They are sometimes surprising, as when people select someone who seems very different and outwardly incompatible, but there is always an internal logic to such choices. For instance, a person has a tremendous fear of being abandoned by the one they love, reflecting anxieties from infancy, and so they select a person who is noticeably inferior in looks or intelligence, knowing that person will cling to them no matter what.
  • The Hyperperfectionist: You are lured into their circle by how hard they work, how dedicated they are to making the best of whatever it is they produce. They put in longer hours than even the lowliest employee. Yes, they might explode and yell at people below them for not doing the job right, but that is because they want to maintain the highest standards, and that should be a good thing. But if you have the misfortune of agreeing to work with or for such a type, you will slowly discover the reality. They cannot delegate tasks; they have to oversee everything. It is less about high standards and dedication to the group than about power and control.
  • The Relentless Rebel: At first glance such people can seem quite exciting. They hate authority and love the underdog. Almost all of us are secretly attracted to such an attitude; it appeals to the adolescent within us, the desire to snub our nose at the teacher. They don’t recognize rules or precedents. Following conventions is for those who are weak and stodgy. These types will often have a biting sense of humor, which they might turn on you, but that is part of their authenticity, their need to deflate everyone, or so you think. But if you happen to associate with this type more closely, you will see that it is something they cannot control; it is a compulsion to feel superior, not some higher moral quality.
  • The Personalizer: These people seem so sensitive and thoughtful, a rare and nice quality. They might seem a little sad, but sensitive people can have it rough in life. You are often drawn in by this air of theirs, and want to help. Also, they can appear quite intelligent, considerate, and good to work with. What you come to realize later on is that their sensitivity really only goes in one direction—inward. They are prone to take everything that people say or do as personal. They tend to brood over things for days, long after you have forgotten some innocuous comment that they have taken personally. As children, they had a gnawing feeling that they never got enough from their parents—love, attention, material possessions. As they get older, everything tends to remind them of what they didn’t get. They go through life resenting this and wanting others to give them things without their having to ask.
  • The Drama Magnet: They will draw you in with their exciting presence. They have unusual energy and stories to tell. Their features are animated and they can be quite witty. They are fun to be around, until the drama turns ugly. As children, they learned that the only way to get love and attention that lasted was to enmesh their parents in their troubles and problems, which had to be large enough to engage the parents emotionally over time. This became a habit, their way of feeling alive and wanted. Most people shrink from any kind of confrontation, but they seem to live for it.
  • The Big Talker: You are impressed by their ideas, the projects that they are thinking about. They need help, they need backers, and you are sympathetic, but step back for a moment and examine their record for signs of past achievements or anything tangible. You might be dealing with a type that is not overtly dangerous but can prove maddening and waste your valuable time. In essence, these people are ambivalent. On the one hand they are secretly afraid of the effort and responsibility that go with translating their ideas into action. On the other hand, they crave attention and power. The two sides go to war within them, but the anxious part inevitably wins out and they slip away at the last moment.
  • The Sexualizer: They seem charged with sexual energy, in a way that is refreshingly unrepressed. They have a tendency to mix work with pleasure, to blur the usual boundaries for when it is appropriate to use this energy, and you might imagine that this is healthy and natural. But in truth it is compulsive and comes from a dark place. In their earliest years such people probably suffered sexual abuse in some way. This could have been directly physical or something more psychological, which the parent expressed through looks and touching that was subtle but inappropriate.
  • The Pampered Prince/Princess: They will draw you in with their regal air. They are calm and ever so slightly imbued with a feeling of superiority. It is pleasant to meet people who appear confident and destined to wear a crown. Slowly you might find yourself doing favors for them, working extra hard for no pay, and not really understanding how or why. Somehow they express the need to be taken care of, and they are masters at getting others to pamper them. In childhood, their parents indulged them in their slightest whim and protected them from any kind of harsh intrusion from the outside world. There are also some children who incite this behavior in their parents by acting especially helpless. Whatever the cause, as adults their greatest desire is to replicate this early pampering. It remains their lost paradise. You will notice often that when they don’t get what they want, they display baby-like behavior, pouting, or even tantrums.
  • The Pleaser: You have never met anyone so nice and considerate. You almost can’t believe how accommodating and charming they are. Then slowly you begin to have some doubts, but nothing you can put your finger on. Perhaps they don’t show up as promised or don’t do a job so well. It is subtle. The further this goes, however, the more it seems like they are sabotaging you or talking behind your back. These types are consummate courtiers, and they have developed their niceness not out of a genuine affection for their fellow humans but as a defense mechanism.
  • The Savior: You cannot believe your good luck—you have met someone who will save you from your difficulties and troubles. Somehow they recognized your need for help and here they are with books to read, strategies to employ, the right foods to eat. In the beginning it is all quite seductive, but your doubts begin the moment you want to assert your independence and do things on your own. In childhood, these types often had to become the caregivers of their own mother, father, or siblings.
  • The Easy Moralizer: They communicate a sense of outrage at this bit of injustice or that, and they are quite eloquent. With such conviction they find followers, including you. But sometimes you detect cracks in their righteous veneer. They don’t treat their employees so well; they are condescending to their spouse; they may have a secret life or vice you catch glimpses of. As children, they were often made to feel guilty for their own strong impulses and desires for pleasure. They were punished and tried to repress these impulses. Because of this they develop some self-loathing and are quick to project negative qualities onto others or look enviously at people who are not so repressed. They don’t like other people enjoying themselves. Instead of expressing their envy, they choose to judge and condemn.
  • Lincoln provides the model for us all and the antidote to the fever. First and foremost we must develop patience, which is like a muscle that requires training and repetition to make it strong. Lincoln was a supremely patient man. When we face any kind of problem or obstacle, we must follow his example and make an effort to slow things down and step back, wait a day or two before taking action. Second, when faced with issues that are important, we must have a clear sense of our long-term goals and how to attain them. Part of this involves assessing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the parties involved. Such clarity will allow us to withstand the constant emotional overreactions of those around us. Finally, it is important to have faith that time will eventually prove us right and to maintain our resolve.
  • We like to scoff at the superstitious and irrational ideas that most people held in the seventeenth century. Imagine how those of the twenty-fifth century will scoff at ours. Our knowledge of the world is limited, despite the advances of science. Our ideas are conditioned by the prejudices instilled in us by our parents, by our culture, and by the historical period we live in. They are further limited by the increasing rigidity of the mind. A bit more humility about what we know would make us all more curious and interested in a wider range of ideas.
  • Each of us sees the world through a particular lens that colors and shapes our perceptions. Let us call this lens our attitude. The great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung defined this in the following way: “Attitude is a readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way. . . . To have an attitude means to be ready for something definite, even though this something is unconscious; for having an attitude is synonymous with an a priori orientation to a definite thing.”
  • These attitudes have a self-sabotaging dynamic. Such people make others feel the same negative emotion that dominates their attitude, which helps confirm them in their beliefs about people. They do not see the role that their own actions play, how they often are the instigators of the negative response. They only see people persecuting them, or bad luck overwhelming them. By pushing people away, they make it doubly hard to have any success in life, and in their isolation their attitude gets worse. They are caught in a vicious cycle.
  • People with this attitude have many other subtle tricks up their sleeve for provoking the hostility they secretly want to feel directed at them—withdrawing their cooperation on a project at just the wrong moment, constantly being late, doing a poor job, deliberately making an unfavorable first impression. But they never see themselves as playing any kind of role in instigating the reaction
  • The Anxious Attitude. These types anticipate all kinds of obstacles and difficulties in any situation they face. With people, they often expect some sort of criticism or even betrayal. All of this stimulates unusual amounts of anxiety before the fact. What they really fear is losing control of the situation. Their solution is to limit what can possibly happen, to narrow the world they deal with. This means limiting where they go and what they’ll attempt. In a relationship, they will subtly dominate the domestic rituals and habits; they will seem brittle and demand extra careful attention. This will dissuade people from criticizing them. Everything must be on their terms. At work they will be ferocious perfectionists and micromanagers, eventually sabotaging themselves by trying to keep on top of too many things. Once outside their comfort zone—the home or the relationship they dominate—they become unusually fretful.
  • If you notice such tendencies in yourself, the best antidote is to pour your energies into work. Focusing your attention outward into a project of some sort will have a calming effect. As long as you rein in your perfectionistic tendencies, you can channel your need to control into something productive. With people, try to slowly open yourself to their habits and pace of doing things, instead of the opposite. This can show you that you have nothing to fear by loosening control. Deliberately place yourself in the circumstances you most dread, discovering that your fears are grossly exaggerated. You are slowly introducing a bit of chaos into your overly ordered life
  • The Avoidant Attitude. People with this attitude see the world through the lens of their insecurities, generally related to doubts about their competence and intelligence. Perhaps as children they were made to feel guilty and uncomfortable with any efforts to excel and stand out from siblings; or they were made to feel bad about any kind of mistake or possible misbehavior. What they came to dread most was the judgment of their parents. As these people get older, their main goal in life is to avoid any kind of responsibility or challenge in which their self-esteem might be at stake and for which they can be judged. If they do not try too hard in life, they cannot fail or be criticized.
  • The Depressive Attitude. As children, these types did not feel loved or respected by their parents. For helpless children, it is too much to imagine that their parents could be wrong or flawed in their parenting. Even if unloved, they still are dependent on them. And so their defense is to often internalize the negative judgment and imagine that they are indeed unworthy of being loved, that there is something actually wrong with them. In this way they can maintain the illusion that their parents are strong and competent. All of this occurs quite unconsciously, but the feeling of being worthless will haunt such people their entire lives. Deep down they will feel ashamed of who they are and not really know why they feel this way.
  • If you notice resentful tendencies within yourself, the best antidote is to learn to let go of hurts and disappointments in life. It is better to explode into anger in the moment, even it if it’s irrational, than to stew on slights that you have probably hallucinated or exaggerated. People are generally indifferent to your fate, not as antagonistic as you imagine. Very few of their actions are really directed at you. Stop seeing everything in personal terms. Respect is something that must be earned through your achievements, not something given to you simply for being human. You must break out of the resentful cycle by becoming more generous toward people and human nature.
  • The Leveler: When you first meet them, levelers can seem rather entertaining and interesting. They tend to have a wicked sense of humor. They are good at putting down those who are powerful and deflating the pretentious. They also seem to have a keen nose for injustice and unfairness in this world. But where they differ from people with genuine empathy for underdogs is that levelers cannot recognize or appreciate excellence in almost anyone, except those who are dead. They have fragile egos. Those who have achieved things in life make them feel insecure. They are highly sensitive to feelings of inferiority. The envy they initially feel for those who are successful is quickly covered up by indignation.
  • The Self-entitled Slacker: In the world today many people rightfully feel entitled to have success and the good things in life, but they usually understand that this will require sacrifice and hard work. Some people, however, feel they deserve attention and many rewards in life as if these are naturally due to them. These self-entitled slackers are generally quite narcissistic. They will make the briefest outline for a novel or screenplay they want to write, or an “idea” for a brilliant business, and feel that that is enough to attract praise and attention. But deep down, these slackers feel insecure about their ability to get what they want; that is why they have never really developed the proper discipline.
  • The Status Fiend: As social animals we humans are very sensitive to our rank and position within any group. We can measure our status by the attention and respect we receive. We are constantly monitoring differences and comparing ourselves with others. But for some people status is more than a way of measuring social position—it is the most important determinant of their self-worth.
  • The Intriguer: These individuals can be particularly difficult to recognize. They seem intensely loyal to the boss and to the group. No one works harder or is more ruthlessly efficient. But this is a mask they wear; behind the scenes they are continually intriguing to amass more power. They generally have a disdain for the boss that they are careful to conceal. They feel they could do the job better, and they yearn to prove this. Perhaps they had competitive issues in childhood with the father figure.
  • The Stirrer: This type is generally riddled with insecurities but adept at disguising them from those in the court. They feel deep wells of resentment and envy for what others seem to have that they don’t, part of their childhood pattern. Their game is to infect the group with doubts and anxieties, stirring up trouble, which puts them at the center of action and may allow them to get closer to the leader.
  • The other choice available to us is to commit ourselves to what Friedrich Nietzsche called amor fati (“love of fate”): “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity. Not merely to endure that which happens of necessity . . . but to love it.” What this means is the following: There is much in life we cannot control, with death as the ultimate example of this. We will experience illness and physical pain. We will go through separations with people. We will face failures from our own mistakes and the nasty malevolence of our fellow humans. And our task is to accept these moments, and even embrace them, not for the pain but for the opportunities to learn and strengthen ourselves. In doing so, we affirm life itself, accepting all of its possibilities. And at the core of this is our complete acceptance of death.
  • This love of fate has the power to alter everything we experience and lighten the burdens we carry. Why complain over this or that, when in fact we see such events as occurring for a reason and ultimately enlightening us? Why feel envy for what others have, when we possess something far greater—the ultimate approach to the harsh realities of life?