Law 4: Determine the Strength of People’s Character

Muhammad Ali

Laws of Human Nature (Robert Greene) series


  1. Toxic Character Types:
  • The Relentless Rebel: These people appear to be exciting and adventurous as they operate against the grain. But a closer look will reveal an air of superiority. Their cause is always the right cause. If you oppose them, you will be the victim of their sarcastic jokes.
  • The Personalizer: They appear to be ‘sensitive’ and ‘good-natured’. But over time, you will notice that their sensitivity is only directed inwards. They often feel they are the victims of situations. Don’t engage with these types as they tend to remember everything and will come for revenge, if you rub them the wrong way.
  • The Drama magnet: They have a magnetic side to their character. Initially, they can appear exciting and fun, but once they got their hooks in, the drama begins. Their lives always seem to be filled with problems and dilemmas and they will drag you down with them. Disengage with them ASAP.
  • The Big Talker: Their ideas are innovative and they are extremely creative. A glimpse into their past will reveal no concrete accomplishment. They tend to have ideas but seldom act on them. They always point fingers at others when a project fails; It is never their fault. Show interest and amusement at their ideas but don’t invest any time or money.
  • The Sexualizer: These people have a lot of ‘unrepressed’ sexual energy. They tend to see every relationship as one that is potentially sexual; and often times mix work and pleasure. Sex for them is a measure of validation. They will use this trait to get what they want. If you notice this in someone, minimize contact.
  • The Pampered Prince/Princess: Their character has a sense of royalty to it. They present themselves as superior and have an unnatural confidence. You unconsciously start doing favours for them. If they don’t get what they want, they display child-like behaviours. They love to be pampered. Don’t feel guilty for not always helping them, prioritize yourself first.
  • The Pleaser: These people have learnt to use ‘niceness’ as a coping mechanism to avoid hostility. But in reality, they can be quite passive aggressive. You will notice this in subtle behaviours- where they don’t do completely what is expected. Be on your guard at all times. They will strike when you least expect.
  • The Savior: These people are proactive to help you out, but at a cost. They expect complete dependance from you. They gain satisfaction of helping others and the moment you show some independence, they will be passive aggressive. No matter what, be independent.
  • The Easy Moralizer: These types preach morality but there are chinks in the armour. You notice they don’t practice what they preach. They tend to see things in a binary way. In reality, they are attracted to what they are fighting against. Keep your distance from such types.

Law in Action

In 1905, after many hours of painful labor, Allene Stone Gano gave birth to a son, Howard Hughes Jr. Going through long labor nearly ended her life, and she decided to love this boy to the fullest.

Her husband, Howard Hughes Sr., was a business owner of a successful company, Sharp-Hughes Tool Company; and had made quite a fortune for the family. Being an entrepreneur meant that he had to travel for the most part, and subsequently, he ended up being an absent father and husband. This made Howard Jr. be his mother’s sole companion at home, and Allene focused all her attention on him.

Howard Jr. was a really sensitive child and could get nervous in most instances. His mother tried to protect him against unfamiliar instances and warded off any ‘dangers’ that came his way. Soon enough, with his mother’s protection, he grew up to be a polite boy of soft nature.

But tragedy struck the family when, in 1922, his mother passed away suddenly. To make things worse, his father died less than two years later. This resulted in 18-year-old Howard Jr., becoming completely independent with a large fortune. His relatives could not fathom what happened next. He started showing a completely different side of him. He would not listen to them and would completely act out as a rebel. He started to show deaf ears to any advice they would provide, and finally ended up buying all the shares of his father’s company, from them.

In 1927, after becoming completely free of his family, he settled in Los Angeles and pursued his interests of ‘aviation’ and ‘film-making’. After spending a ridiculous amount of $3.8 million, and after firing two directors in the process, he directed his first film, Hell’s Angels. The film was received well by the audience and critics alike and this only motivated Howard Jr. to plunge further into his dreams. [He regretted the movie; but still did it . The movie was successful because of the action sequences : Not because of him]

In the 30’s he started his own aircraft manufacturing company, Hughes Aircrafts, and by 1942, he had signed military contracts worth $61 million. He would be the biggest player in the game, just as America was placing its foot in World War 2.

But something began to happen. A rumor started to float around that Hughes Aircraft was not budgeting correctly. Then people started to say that there was colossal mismanagement of many projects. Soon there were many rumors associated with Hughes Aircrafts and its grandiose plans.

Finally, by 1944, people could finally see the house of cards crumble. His production had fallen behind schedule and in the end, there wasn’t a ‘single’ Hughes Aircraft jet that was used in the war. [He started micromanaging and letting all decisions pass thru him]

In 1948, he bought RKO pictures, with the dream of getting back into show biz, and planned on making a modern version of Hell’s Angels. He called it Jet Pilot and spent 3 years and $ 4 million making the movie. When it finally released, the audience’s tastes had changed and the movie turned out to be a failure.

With America now going to war with Vietnam, in the 60’s, Howard Jr. signed a contract to manufacture helicopters for the US military. But the same pattern repeated and the company started falling behind schedules. They kept cutting prices to win more auctions; promising the government they would create state-of-the-art military helicopters but they only overpromised and underdelivered. Finally, the company was hit with a $90 million loss.

The pattern only ended in 1976 when Howard Hughes Jr. passed away, ironically, in a flight from Acapulco to Houston from all pain pills and drugs he was addicted to over the years.

Insight and Resolution

When Howard Jr.’s mother realized she could not have anymore children, she started to smother him with not only love & attention, but also with all her anxieties. The father saw Howard to be an extension of himself and expected him to carry forward his legacy. What ended up happening in the process is that the parents took control of every aspect of his life: from selecting his clothes to selecting his friends. Hence, as a child Howard detested the control on him, but couldn’t do anything as he was dependant on his parents. When his parents passed, he felt liberated and could finally let his shadow personality out. And we know what happens next.

Greene offers a two step process for avoiding vicious patterns in our life, that are caused by character traits we have internalized.

  1. Understand our own character
  2. Learn to read other people’s character.

Understanding our Own Character

Our character is defined by four main layers:

Deepest layer: It comprises the biological and genetic factors of how our brains are wired. Eg. Some people, by ‘nature’ are more prone to be depressed.

Middle layer 1: These are traits that we internalize, early on in our childhood. They are primarily based on our relationships with our mothers.

Greene uses John Bowlby’s Attachment styles to offer a basic category of mother-child relationships:

  1. Free-Autonomous: Caregivers who give the children freedom, are sensitive to their needs, but also protect them.
  2. Dismissing: A distant caregiver, who at times is even hostile. In this relationship, the child has a need to be self reliant as s/he feels abandoned.
  3. Emneshed-Ambivalent: The caregivers, here are inconsistent with the attention they provide. Sometimes they are overprotective, and at other times, distant. The result is that a role reversal takes place, and the child feels s/he has to look after the caregiver.
  4. Disorganized: Here the caregiver themselves face inner emotional conflicts and feel that nothing their child does is right. The children soon themselves develop problems with managing their own emotions.

Middle layer 2: The character traits developed here are direct products of the first two layers. Depending on our relationship with our caregivers, as children, we develop certain strategies and behaviors to handle relationships and moments of stress.

Top Layer: These are traits we develop in our adolescence is response to character flaws we can identify in ourselves.

The advice that is provided here is that we have to analyze our character and try to go as deep as possible into the layers. We need to actively introspect and meditate upon childhood experiences to see our (negative) patterns and understand their source.

We can’t ‘fix’ our character, but by thorough analysis and active practice, we can mitigate the effects of our worst character traits.

Reading other Peoples’ Character

The key here is to be able to look through the facade that people show. Chapter 3 gives a clear picture on how we can see through people’s masks.

Greene also provides key character ‘signs’ we can look for, as we gauge people’s true:

  1. Patterns of Behaviour: Look at how people behaved in the past. ‘Patterns’ are a key indicator of character.
  2. Handling of everyday affairs: If people are inconsistent and late with small assignments, they will also be late with larger projects.
  3. How people treat colleagues and employees: Look at the difference between how people behave between peers and subordinates. If there is a discrepancy, and if they display more negative behavior towards those under them, their ‘true’ character is more negative as well. Especially keep an eye out when there is a stressful situation.
  4. How people handle power & responsibility: To tie in the earlier point, see how people act as leaders. Are proactive and supporting; or are they more micro-managing and dictatorial.
  5. People’s choice of partners/spouses: See how people selected their partner. Is it someone they can dominate or control? The selection of a partner/spouse is a direct result of the attachment schemas, defined earlier.
  6. How people act when they aren’t working: Are people more aggressive than they portray, when they’re playing a sport. How do they handle losses?
  7. Are people extroverts or introverts: Extroverts are governed by external criteria, whereas, introverts are more sensitive and are interested in their own opinions.

Greene also prescribes using ‘tests’ to gauge one’s character. To measure one’s trustworthiness, he suggests sharing a rumor in secrecy. Does the person keep it to themselves or does s/he spread it?

To learn more about Robert Greene and his work please visit

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Published by The Street Pandit

Exploring through Time and Space.

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