Posted On 17 Feb 2017
Ignoring human nature while trying to improve one’s relationships is senseless.
Would you like to be more successful with respect to your encounters with other people? Begin by approaching others with a realistic appraisal of human nature.
What’s that? What are we humans actually like?
Don’t confuse that question with the question “What should we humans be like?” Let’s here consider simply the way we actually are.
An account of human nature is a list of qualities that any individual must have in order to be correctly classified as a human being.
Because there are many qualities that may be taken to be relevant, it’s hardly surprising that there are many different accounts of the nature of being human.
Let’s here agree to adopt a common sense approach and to deal with human beings as we find them.
Obviously, human beings are a kind of animal. As biological organisms, we are naturally driven to survive and reproduce.
Furthermore, human beings are distinctive animals. What makes us distinctive?
Do you have reasons for what you do and how you are? Of course. So do we all. In that broad sense, we are rational animals. Exactly how best to understand our rationality is a matter of dispute, but that we are rational is not a matter of dispute.
Of course we are also emotional animals. I argue, in effect, in Emotional Facelift that we are emotional animals because we are rational animals. Why? Emotions are themselves rational. Every emotion is composed of rational, nonemotional parts.
Focusing on our rationality gets us closer toward a realistic understand of human nature than might be anticipated. Why? It leads us to the most common way of living, which is called “the way of the world.”
It’s rational for us to want to obtain everything we want and to avoid everything we don’t want at minimal cost. The ideal is gaining something for nothing. Those who come closest to doing that are those considered successful.
This simple idea can be developed into a realistic account of human nature. (I did exactly that in Mastery in 7 Steps.) How?
Everyone understands that it’s necessary to make a living somehow or other. Let’s suppose that you don’t have a job and are looking for one. Suppose that you are offered two jobs.
The jobs are identical in terms of work and wages except that job A requires you to be at work forty hours weekly and job B requires you to be at work twenty hours weekly. Would you select job A or job B?
It would be irrational for you to select job A. In a similar circumstance, everyone would select job B. Why? It’s rational to prefer the same benefits from less time and effort.
Therefore, it’s rational to be lazy. In fact, we are all naturally lazy.
It’s unnecessary to evaluate that as good nor bad. It’s simply a fact about the way we are.
In Mastery in 7 Steps I offer similar arguments for the following initial, realistic account of human nature.
Humans beings are expedient. We are naturally and rationally:
These are not the only qualities of human beings. Nor are they our most fundamental qualities. They are, however, qualities that characterize our contemporary social interactions.
My claim is not that these qualities should characterize our interpersonal relationships. My claim is simply that they do – at least until we work on ourselves seriously.
Thomas Jefferson: “The worst day of a man’s life is when he sits down and begins thinking about how he can get something for nothing.”
There are objections that can be raised against this account (and I consider several in the book). Perhaps, though, you’ll agree that, if you taught your children to assume that others always had these 7 characteristics, they would be less disappointed in other people.
Personally, and I’ve argued for this in multiple writings, I think that it’s foolish to live following the way of the world.
However, if you are interested in everyday success, it’s wise to assume that, until proven otherwise, everyone else you meet is characterized by those seven qualities. (Be grateful when someone lacks one of them!)
For example, suppose that you are selling an idea, product, or service. Keep in mind that your potential convert is selfish and, so, always asking, “What’s in this for me?” If you keep that in mind as you are giving your pitch, you’ll more likely be successful.