Become an Elusive Object of Desire // Human Nature Series 06
Last night, I noticed a nervous woman at a professional event. She was new to the group and arrived alone. To her, the room looked like a bunch of locked off little groups. All the tables appeared to be full and the people were deep in conversation. She went to the bar, got a drink, and drummed her fingernails against her glass.
At first glance, this woman appeared to lack social skills. She seemed helpless and destined to spend the night alone. Then, a man at the bar greeted her. Suddenly, she changed. It turned out that she was very charming. More people joined the group. Soon, the woman was glowing with attention.
“You think you’re such a smart, rational person, but it’s bullshit. We have a nature.” -Robert Greene
We would like to believe that we see things as they are, but that is never the case. We are influenced by the activity of other people. Whether picking a band to watch or a pair of sneakers, we get caught up in what other people are choosing. Just look at the way street performers will rally a crowd to make a snowball effect. Eventually, we can’t see the performer, but we go to see what caused the crowd.
Popularity becomes conflated with value. And in the age of social media, popularity is even mistaken for truth.
In this article we’ll discuss why humans are covetous, how to get other people to want things, and how to control your covetous nature. This is a summary of the ideas on The Law of Covetousness from The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene. To see my full video interview with Robert Greene, check out the video embedded below.
Overall, our covetous nature is valuable for survival. If we were complacent, ancient humans would not have done the work necessary to thrive. In the modern era, we still search for more, as though we are fighting for our lives.
The grass-is-always-greener view of the world is natural, given that our visual system relies on contrast. When I trained pilots in the U.S. Navy to avoid visual illusions, we were often pointing out scenarios where contrasting lines, colors, or perspectives created misleading sight pictures. Even highly trained pilots can mistake a strong line for a horizon. The same principle of contrast can mislead us in everyday life. Things that we can’t have will stand out. This is called induction. We are eager to open the door that is locked. And when a book is banned it seems more interesting.
It is also pleasant to feel stirred by desire. In a mundane life there is pleasure in imagining something great. To help others get excited about what you create, try the following strategies.
1. Respect Their Psychology. Think of your audience first. What do they dream of? See how they look at themselves and what you offer, then give them something aspirational and exciting. Don’t be blunt. Be mysterious and leave some room for imagination.
2. Withdraw. People lose interest in things that are common and accessible. Instead, show that you respect yourself. Be slightly cold and ambiguous. When there is a frenzy, back away and let people miss you. Their imagination will be filled with thoughts of you.
In your work, leave the message open to interpretation. When done right, this will leave audiences discussing your creation for generations.
“It is advisable to let everyone of your acquaintance — whether man or woman — feel now and then that you could very well dispense with their company.” -Arthur Schopenhauer
3. Create Rivalries of Desire. As children, we fought with our siblings for a parent’s attention. Now, we still want what other people have. Use this to your advantage by creating the impression that your work is desired by others. Generate buzz, even controversy or piracy, anything to stimulate word of mouth. In your personal life, let people find out that you are desired. Be indirect, but leave clues. If you are direct, the magic is lost.
4. Use Induction. In the 21st century, we are always watched. Our messages are read, our conversations are recorded, and everyone photographs each other like paparazzi. We have a deep yearning to escape the bounds of polite society and do something taboo. Recognize this and contrast yourself against the establishment. You offer something revolutionary or illicit. You are ahead of the times, different from the old way.
In the things you create, give a sense that people can have something unattainable. Offer the fantasy of greatness or something lost, such as youth. It is not the possession, but the pursuit that you must learn to create.
“We shouldn’t delude ourselves — pleasure isn’t in the fulfillment, but in the pursuit.” -Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Covetousness will spur you to action, but it can only take you so far. If you are always discontent, you will fail to put down deep roots and develop. Chasing new highs through material possessions will suck up your time and hurt you financially. Constant pursuit of the perfect partner will prevent you from making the effort to develop the relationships you have.
Ultimately, time is a zero sum game. We must learn to spend it mastering the things we value, rather than falling prey to trends and marketing.
Instead of coveting a passing fad, covet the things that will make you truly great. Covet a calm, mindful way of living. Covet a clear sense of self and reality.
For an in-depth look at our nature, the book to read on this subject is The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.