The Laws of Human Nature (2018) takes an in-depth look at the many aspects of the human condition that often go overlooked or unacknowledged. As author Robert Greene explains, we are all a bit narcissistic, irrational, short-sighted and prone to compulsive and aggressive behavior. But once we accept and start to understand these aspects of human nature, we can begin to control and even benefit from them.
We like to think that modern human beings are a clever and highly rational bunch. But the truth is we tend to make a lot of our decisions based on the emotions we feel at any given moment, which means we’re often pretty irrational.
This struggle between our emotional and rational sides has gone on for ages. One of the early champions of rational behavior was Pericles, a well-respected statesman in Athens around the fifth century BC.
When Athens was under threat of attack by the Spartans, Pericles was able to convince leaders to show restraint and not engage in all-out war. Unfortunately, his wisdom didn’t prevail when Athens was struck by the plague and Pericles died. Instead, emotions took over and resulted in a costly and drawn-out war that brought Athens to its knees.
The secret to Pericles’s wisdom was patience, and this is what we still need to rely on to curb our irrational decisions. If there was a problem or important decision to be made, Pericles would withdraw to his home and calmly think it over, consider all the potential consequences and make the decision that’s in everyone’s best interest, not just the leaders or wealthiest people.
So, whenever possible, increase your reaction time so that you’re not making decisions in the heat of an emotional moment. And meanwhile, try to consider all the possible biases influencing the decision.
There are a number of these, including confirmation bias, where we tend to seek out information that supports our prejudices, and conviction bias, that leads us to believe that the stronger our emotions are, the more something must be true.
Other biases include the appearance bias, which leads us to believe that someone who looks appealing, whether it’s attractive or rich, must somehow be of good character. Then there’s the group bias, which leads us to believe whatever the group we belong to suggests. For example, if you’re a member of a right or left-leaning political party, you might agree with every one of the party standpoints without considering alternate views.
Our biases can easily lead to bad decisions, so it’s always good to be skeptical, analytical and curious about differing viewpoints. Plus, it’s wise to balance thinking with your emotions. You don’t have to be an emotionless robot when making a decision, but you’re bound to make better decisions when you’re feeling calm.