Question: What new insights about power came out of your research for “The 50th Law”?
Robert Greene: Well I wanted to look at something kind of really underneath it all because The 48 Laws of Power I’m looking at these games that people are playing in this kind of court like atmosphere with all these politics going on and strategies being used and all of that. I wanted to like dig underneath it and go into the mind and the guts of what makes a person powerful or successful. Not just with money, but just in the sense of feeling like you’re a powerful person and I had the chance to work with 50 Cent. He was a fan of The 48 Laws. A lot of rappers are. I’ve met quite a few who feel like they’ve used the book to help them. He was one of them. We met. We found we had a really interesting rapport. We felt very comfortable with each other as if we had known each other for many years and so we did this book together, but for me the idea was here is somebody who comes from the absolute bottom of America, Southside Queens in the crack era when an African-American male is not supposed to live past the age of 25, particularly one who is dealing drugs and who is dealing with all the violence. Not only did he manage without a mother or father in his life. He never knew his father. His mother was murdered when he was eight. Not only did he manage to be a hustler, but he managed to get out of the hustling racket. He managed to get into music, but he managed to survive that horrible world of music with the crap political games that go on within. He not only survived, but he was able to become successful, but he kept building on it and building on it. It’s a typical American rags-to-riches story. I wanted to know why. What’s underneath it? What was that quality that maybe we could learn? And in spending time with him I felt like if I could summarize it in one word it’s that this is a man who comes to life without fear. So it’s not just fear of death or bullets. That’s the obviously thing we’re talking about. I’m talking about here is a man who is not afraid of change for instance. If something happens where a situation is new, he has lost a job, he has been cut off of his record contract or something happening he doesn’t get upset or worried. He is calm. He deals with it in a fearless manner. He takes risks, but the risks are controlled, but he is not afraid of failing. He is not afraid of being criticized. He is not afraid of being different from other people. When I thought about that it’s just how powerful you could be in life if are not afraid of the things that happen to you. You’re able to feel balanced and in control and make decisions not based on exaggerating risks etcetera, but on reality. I just thought it was an incredibly powerful way to be in the world. I could feel it myself influenced by him and seeing myself going forward and when I looked at all the people I’ve studied in history, Napoleon Bonaparte, Franklin Eleanor Roosevelt, Catherine the Great, Cesare Borgia, all of the thousands of people I’ve studied, they all shared that quality and it’s like a… It’s a way of being in the world. When you’re afraid and fearful it’s like your mind close… the aperture of your mind closes up to this and you stop looking at the world around you. You want everything to be comfortable and familiar and the same. You stay in your house. You watch the same TV shows. Everything just… The circle closes up. When you’re not afraid and we’ve experienced it all in our lives. When suddenly you’re in a new country and you just don’t… You’re traveling and you feel open. You’re mind is active and alive. You become creative. Everything changes. This is the key to feeling powerful, but also to being creative in the world, so I wanted to get underneath all of the other things, the power, the seduction, the strategy and see that quality that lay underneath it all.
Question: Is fearlessness innate or cultivated?
Robert Greene: Well it’s… I don’t want to get angry here because it’s not about you, but I get so annoyed with that argument about it being innate. How could something like that be innate? Sure we’re all individuals and somebody because of who they are and their DNA and their experiences are a little more timid than other people, but nobody is born without fear. We are all born into this world screaming and crying, a bloody mess. We’re terrified of being away from our mother for a few minutes. We’re afraid of the dark. We’re afraid of dying. We’re afraid of being beaten up in school. We’re afraid of failing. There is not an individual on this planet, I don’t care who you’re talking about who hasn’t felt a lot of fear. What differentiates people are those we find who tend to deal more with fearful situations and don’t… and understand that it’s hurting them in life. That by becoming fearful they’re maiming themselves and they learn to move past these fears. That’s what separates people. That’s what separated 50. He saw being on the streets if he was afraid it was just going to mess him up. People could read it off of him. He’d get conservative. It wouldn’t work and so he learned that he had to teach himself to not be fearful in any circumstance in life. That’s what the book is there for. Certainly some people don’t have as much clay to work with or they’re older and they’re… and things are set, but everybody has the capacity to be more realistic and realize that the reason they’re holding onto that bad job it’s not because they’re being realistic or prudent or being a good worker. It’s because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of change. They’re afraid of leaving something. They’re afraid of anything unfamiliar. It’s fear. When you understand the fear then you can begin to move past it. So when I hear the people say it’s innate, you can’t learn it, I just want to hit them in the head. I don’t know.
Recorded on December 14, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen