The Laws of Human Nature cover

The Laws of Human Nature - Book Summary

What affects your day-to-day life

Duration: 36:03
Release Date: January 4, 2024
Book Author: Robert Greene
Categories: Society & Culture, Management & Leadership, Sex & Relationships, Psychology, Personal Development, Nature & the Environment, Career & Success
Duration: 36:03
Release Date: January 4, 2024
Book Author: Robert Greene
Categories: Society & Culture, Management & Leadership, Sex & Relationships, Psychology, Personal Development, Nature & the Environment, Career & Success

In this episode of 20 Minute Books, we delve into the intricacies of what it means to be human with "The Laws of Human Nature" by Robert Greene. Published in 2018, the book offers a profound exploration into the obscured or often ignored facets of our personalities. Greene asserts that tendencies such as narcissism, irrationality, shortsightedness, and aggression are inherent in all of us. By acknowledging these traits, we can harness them to our advantage, achieving better control over our actions and interactions.

Robert Greene is a renowned author whose work resonates with a wide spectrum of readers, from historians to business leaders. His penetrating insights into the psyches of significant historical figures and their pathways to success have earned him acclaim. Greene's authority on the subject is fortified by his track record of bestsellers, which include "The 48 Laws of Power," "The 33 Strategies of War," and "Mastery."

"The Laws of Human Nature" is an essential read for psychology enthusiasts eager to delve into the depths of human behavior. It is also ideal for individuals striving for self-understanding and personal enhancement. Join us as we unpack the lessons contained within its pages, and possibly uncover the keys to leading a more informed and fulfilling life.

Unlock the secrets to mastering your own nature and shaping a more insightful life

In the bustling arena of life, where decisions can hinge on a multitude of unseen forces, understanding the maelstrom of human nature is like holding a compass in a storm. Every day, we face decisions, big and small, and the myriad complex influences that shape them often elude our grasp. Yet, by diving into the laws that govern our behavior, our emotions, and our social interactions, we can arm ourselves with the foresight and awareness to navigate life’s choppy waters with greater mastery and intent.

Melancholy though it may sound, one of the hallmarks of profound wisdom is to entertain the idea of mortality. This sobering thought isn't to cast a shadow over our days but to illuminate them—with urgency, with prioritization, with depth. A life lived with an acknowledgement of its end is akin to reading a book knowing there are only a few chapters left — each word, each moment becomes weighed with significance and vitality.

Picture, if you will, an individual who stands as a beacon of farsightedness. They weave through life not just with mere reaction, but with strategic vision. They know the power in delaying gratification and considering the long reverberations of every action, every choice. Their perspective is broad, panoramic, and in this broadness, they find a clarity that leads to decisions which not only serve the momentary want, but the lifelong well-being.

Now imagine a “reality group,” — a trusted council of diverse perspectives that offers a bastion against our all-too-human tendency to fall into groupthink or personal illusions. These aren't echo chambers, but forums for reality-checked ideas, where biases are balanced, and wisdom is crowdsourced. By maintaining such a group around ourselves, we take the raw elements of our ideas and forge them in the crucible of collective insight.

What's more, these insights aren't just high-minded abstractions. They are lenses that, once you start looking through them, reveal how envy shapes our desires, how self-absorption clouds our empathies, and how group dynamics often dictate the course of our convictions. To recognize these threads in the tapestry of our behaviors is the first step to weaving a life that's not just reactive but reflective, not just lived but understood.

Navigating human nature is not simply about stifling our baser impulses; it's about channeling them, transforming them into stepping stones towards a more intentional existence. So let’s embark on this journey of understanding — why a long view is paramount, the necessity of a reality-oriented entourage, and the profound motivational shift that comes from acknowledging life's finitude — to move through the world with an evolved sense of purpose and a commanding grasp over our instinctual selves.

Even in our modern age, our decisions are often swayed by emotion

Consider yourself rational? Many of us do. But let's peel back the layers of our decisions, and we'll often find them tinged with the hues of our emotions. The truth is, no matter how advanced we've become as a species, there remains within us a constant tug-of-war between our emotional responses and the cool, measured hand of reason.

Take a historical journey back to fifth century BC Athens, and we encounter Pericles, a statesman whose name has become synonymous with rational governance. In the face of an impending Spartan invasion, it wasn't fervor or fear that guided his counsel, but a measured call for measured action. His patience and wisdom fostered restraint — a choice sparing Athens from immediate devastation. However, this rational spirit did not outlast him, as his death during the plague unloosed the chains of emotion, plunging Athens into a protracted, self-destructive conflict.

Pericles’ approach to decision-making was rooted in the art of patience. Confronted with dilemmas, he retreated — not in fear, but in contemplation — to forecast the ripples of potential outcomes on the broader canvas of Athenian society. His choices were not solely for the few, the powerful, or the affluent, but for the good of the collective.

In our daily lives, what can we learn from Pericles to avoid our own sense of irrationally? Extend your reaction time. Resist the allure of impulsive decision-making that comes with heightened emotions. Amidst a critical choice, allow your thoughts space to breathe, to weigh the assorted angles, and to untangle themselves from the grip of biases.

These biases are a tricky lot. Confirmation bias lures us into the comforting embrace of information that merely echoes our preconceived notions, while conviction bias convinces us that the intensity of our feelings is directly proportional to truth. Let us also be wary of the appearance bias, which seduces us with the false correlation between outward allure and inner virtue. And let's not forget the group bias — the inclination to nod along with the ideologies of the factions to which we belong, without fully engaging with opposing perspectives.

Shifting from these biases requires a healthy dose of skepticism and analytical thinking. Nurture curiosity for contrarian viewpoints. This doesn't mean emotions must be exiled from decision-making. Rather, strive for decisions that emerge from a state of calm. Rationality need not come at the cost of our humanity, but by understanding and balancing our emotions with thoughtful reasoning, we rise closer to making decisions that serve us best in the long run.

The mirror of the self: Confronting the spectrum of narcissism within us

As we glide through the corridors of human interaction, it's worth pausing to consider the silent undercurrent of narcissism that permeates our psyche. It's a trait shared across humanity — a degree of self-centeredness essential for survival. However, as with all things, there exists a range, from benign self-regard to the deep narcissism that stifles one's capacity to relate healthily to others.

Imagine an invisible line marking the boundary of healthy narcissism with dangerous depths lurking beyond. These shadowy waters often stem from one's formative years, between the tender ages of two and five, when the child embarks on the journey of forging an identity separate from parental figures. Deep narcissism may take root in this fertile ground, whether through the suffocating embrace of overbearing parents or the hollow void of emotional neglect. The result? Individuals with a distorted sense of self; these are the ones who grapple with jealousy, crave constant validation, and falter at the faintest whisper of critique.

The irony is thick — the label of narcissism conjures images of self-adulation when, in reality, those who wander too far down this path often lack a foundational self-worth to cherish. To pivot towards a balanced sense of self, one must cultivate a self-appreciation that undercuts insecurity and elevates esteem.

Yet, it's not merely the internal gaze that shapes our lives; it's also the outward look of empathy. This ability to resonate with others, to feel the tremors of their experiences, forges authentic connections and permits us to perceive the genuine essence of those we encounter.

And when it comes to discerning the true nature of others, remember that we are all, to varying degrees, performers on life's stage, as Shakespeare so aptly noted. Our daily masquerade aims to charm, to impress, but the façade often wilts under the spotlight of trials, collaboration, and the test of time.

Character, then, should be appraised not by the flattering image cast in tranquil moments, but by the conduct revealed amidst the storms of challenge. True character dances in the actions taken when the masks fall — in confrontation with obstacles, in the intricate ballet of teamwork, in the humility to evolve. Hold this lens to the world and to yourself — for the reflection you find may hold the key to transcending narcissism and embracing a narrative of growth and connection.

Embrace the duality of character and turn envy into an empowering tool

In the intricate dance of human existence, our characters flicker with a blend of inherent strengths and weaknesses. Some are woven into our DNA, others are painted by the brushstrokes of our upbringing, and yet more are sculpted by the wear and tear of life's experiences. Science whispers of babies already predisposed to feelings of hostility, offering a glimpse into the genetic underpinnings of our behavior.

Let us not, however, mistake this genetic canvas as a fixed fate. Our character is malleable, evolving, and within our weak spots, we often find the seeds of greatness waiting to be nurtured. Our quest for character does not demand perfection but calls for a mirror that reflects our authentic selves — flaws and all.

The journey begins with an inward gaze, a stark, unabashed admission of our very human foibles. Scrutinize the trail of your past errors, assess your strengths with as much rigor as you unpack your weaknesses. Consider the hyperperfectionist whose thirst for control starves her ability to trust in others' capabilities. Rather than perpetuate a cycle of micromanagement, she might thrive in a role where being the meticulous maestro is celebrated, not stifled.

Now, let us address a sentiment few dare to acknowledge openly: envy. It snakes through our veins, a primal response to the forbidden fruits dangling just beyond our grasp. We are creatures eternally gazing at the horizon, yearning for the unseen paradise whose greenery fuels our discontent.

Biologically, our brains are conditioned for competition, with appetites ignited equally by tangible treasures and the phantom jewels of our imagination. To confess to envy is to confess to vulnerability, to a perceived inferiority that gnaws at our pride. Yet, staring down this green-eyed monster offers us clarity — by accepting envy as a universal truth of our nature, we can harness its power.

Imagine yourself the master of elusiveness, enshrouded in a cloak of mystery that tantalizes those around you. To be a riddle is to awaken the imagination, to stoke the fires of fascination. The art of allure lies in the ability to conjure an aura that piques curiosity, that baits the hook with the alluring dance of the accessible yet unattainable.

Applied with care, this knowledge transforms envy from a destructive force to a strategic ally, fashioning our very weaknesses into ladders upon which we, and others, ascend to new heights of intrigue and attraction.

Human nature's myopic view and how to cultivate a strategic vision

There's a curious paradox in the modern world — vast resources are channeled toward combating the specter of terrorism while the looming, pervasive threat of climate change often plays second fiddle. This seeming discrepancy can be traced back to an inherent trait in human nature: short-sightedness.

Historically, our ancestors were preoccupied with the immediacy of danger — the looming presence of a predator or the pressing need to secure sustenance. These immediate threats demanded urgent response, embedding a bias in our nature that prioritizes the now over the future.

To transcend this innate tendency and elevate our decision-making process, we must consciously broaden our perspective to be farsighted. Before making any decision, step back. Gently disentangle yourself from the present urgency and assess the situation with detachment. What are your options? What are the potential outcomes, both immediate and long-term? Remember, the dilemmas of today often spring from the actions of yesterday. A panoramic view of time can offer profound insights, empowering you to make decisions that are not just reactive, but truly visionary.

It's also crucial to remember that sometimes, the most potent action is inaction. The Western world often equates busyness with effectiveness, but Eastern philosophies like those in Japan and China celebrate the strategic advantages of patience and observation, of letting scenarios unfold and adversaries reveal their hands.

Alongside this understanding of strategic vision, be mindful of human defensiveness. It's a universal shield, borne from our deeply ingrained value on autonomy. How can you navigate this facet of human nature? The art lies in guiding individuals to believe that your proposal is a fruit of their own intellect. Do this by celebrating their individuality, affirming their smarts, and aligning with their inherent tenacity.

Take a page from Lyndon B. Johnson's playbook. On entering the Senate, he tempered his fiery Texan spirit with an astute charm offensive, aligning himself with the seasoned senator Richard Russell. By acknowledging Russell's wisdom, Johnson earned his respect, an expedited entry to the influential Armed Services Committee, and ultimately ascended to the heights of Senate leadership — all by the age of 44.

Johnson's trajectory is not just a political anecdote; it's a testament to the power of blending respect with strategic patience, and it serves as a blueprint for managing human nature in our journey toward superior character and decision-making.

Turning adversity into strength by fostering positivity and embracing the shadow self

Have you ever felt as though an invisible force were dragging you away from success and toward a murky pit of failure? This sensation of being ensnared in a cycle of self-sabotage usually springs from certain deep-seated traits that quietly undermine our efforts. By casting a light inward and identifying these recurring saboteurs, we can begin to steer our ship away from disaster and toward the shores of fulfillment.

Believe it or not, a cornerstone of self-defeat can often be our attitude — and the power to reverse its polarity lies within grasp. If doubt clouds your belief in this power, consider the remarkable life of Anton Chekhov, the illustrious playwright whose childhood was steeped in adversity. His early years were marred by the lash of his father's belt and by abandonment when his family fled to Moscow, leaving him to scrape by as a tutor at just sixteen years old.

Given the hand he was dealt, Chekhov could easily have succumbed to bitterness. Yet he ushered in a sense of profound empathy, choosing to see his father not as a monster but as a man crushed under the weight of his own struggles. In this act of compassionate understanding — in letting go of resentment — Chekhov found a transcendent freedom from the chains of anger.

This liberation is a lesson for all: to release negativity is to invite light. Clinging to anger or worthlessness breeds a vicious cycle where escapism, often through substances like alcohol and drugs, might mask the pain but never erases the darkness.

To conquer the shadow self requires first to recognize its presence. Give it a name, acknowledge its whispers, and you can begin to channel its energy constructively. The author refers to these suppressed fragments of our personality as the "shadow self," and the longer they languish in the dark, the more havoc they wreak when they burst forth.

One needs to look no further than the cautionary tale of former U.S. president Richard Nixon, whose grudges and feelings of abandonment simmered beneath the surface until they erupted in behaviour that razed his presidency to the ground.

So stand firm against the tempests of the inner self. Cultivate a positive outlook, learn to forgive, and welcome your shadow into the light. In doing so, you transform what was once a destructive power into a driving force for growth and personal triumph.

Tempering our aspirations with humility anchors us to reality

Witnessing someone's ascent to triumph can sometimes feel akin to watching Icarus take flight, as newfound success inflates their self-perception to perilous heights. This phenomenon, depicted as the Law of Grandiosity, offers a sobering reminder that unchecked ego can swiftly untether us from reality.

The trajectory of Michael Eisner serves as a case study in grandiosity. His rise from TV executive to the leader of Paramount Studios marked an era of cinematic triumphs. Paramount's success was monumental; for a time, it was the crown jewel of Hollywood studios. Eisner's magic touch seemingly journeyed with him as he ascended to the CEO role at Disney, where his Midas touch revived the company through a series of blockbusters and clever exploitation of its film archives in the home video market.

Yet even the most golden streak can tarnish. Eisner's venture into the realm of theme parks with the creation of Euro Disney displayed glaring disconnect— lacking the luster he'd anticipated, as visitors trickled in far below projections. Rather than seeking an inward reflection on missteps, Eisner pointed fingers, notably dismissing Jeffrey Katzenberg, a collaborator vital to Disney's renaissance.

Subsequent misfires like the Go internet portal and missed opportunities like the acquisition of Yahoo! compounded Eisner's misfortunes. His decisions fomented resentment from industry giants like Katzenberg and Steve Jobs, culminating in a dramatic fall from grace and his eventual ouster from Disney.

Eisner's tale illustrates a pivotal lesson: that the tapestry of success is often woven with the threads of mentorship, collaboration, and fortuitous timing. The intoxication of success can blur the vital recognition of these aiding forces and inflate our self-belief to dangerous proportions. In our moments of triumph, humility must be our steadfast companion, ensuring we retain the clarity of our limitations and the gratitude for those who lift us to new heights.

Be mindful that amidst the applause of accolades, it is our grasp on reality that grounds us and stewards us forward. Nurture a sense of perspective that acknowledges the contribution of others, comprehends the role of chance, and keeps our envisions of grandeur firmly checked by the bounds of realism.

Embracing the full spectrum of our identities leads to richer, more purposeful lives

Born into the tapestry of Renaissance Italy, Caterina Sforza was a figure who defied the stark binaries of her time. In an era when gender roles were rigidly demarcated, Sforza wove the fabric of her life with strands of both traditionally masculine and feminine pursuits. With equal fervor, she delved into the worlds of combat and couture, creating a persona that captivated the hearts of Milan.

Sforza's embodiment of duality echoes through time, resonating with contemporary icons like David Bowie, who similarly blurred the lines between masculinity and femininity, crafting an aura that transcends gender norms. Such figures challenge us to interrogate the walls that society often erects between our masculine and feminine selves, urging us to integrate these aspects within us.

Genes and upbringing plant the seeds of masculinity and femininity, yet societal pressures often demand a pruning of our full range of traits. However, embracing the totality of our nature may enrich not only relationships but also our approaches to problem-solving and creativity, knitting together the divergent strands of thought attributed to different genders.

Men, traditionally encouraged to dissect and categorize, and women, often seen as the weavers of patterns and connections — together, these perspectives form a complementary vision, a kaleidoscope that broadens our intellect and insight.

Alongside gender integration lies the odyssey of finding a greater sense of purpose — an antidote to the nebulous fog of aimlessness. This journey inward, to the core of what ignites our passions, frequently leads us back to the crystalline moments of childhood, to those first sparks of wonder that hinted at what would become a lifelong pursuit.

Consider the indelible moments that etched the paths for Steve Jobs upon glimpsing the entrancing displays of an electronics store, or Marie Curie's entrancement with the seemingly magical instruments of chemistry. For Akira Kurosawa, his awakening came later, behind the scenes, apprenticing under the guidance of the venerable director Kajiro Yamamoto. In these experiences lies an epiphany — a convergence of clarity and purpose where once disparate pieces coalesce into a resonant whole.

As we navigate our own lives, let us aspire to uncover such moments — the pivot points that reveal a higher calling. They are the lighthouse beacons that guide us towards a life steeped not in vagueness, but in vivid, purpose-driven intentionality.

Shaking off the shackles of group mentality and entitlement to find individual empowerment

We like to envision ourselves as beacons of individualism—a society of thinkers independent and discerning. But take a closer look, and you'll find that beneath our polished exteriors thrums a pulse that is tribal at its core. Our natures are laced with a yearning for acceptance within a collective, and it's vital to come to terms with this inclination towards group mentality.

History is rife with tales of collectives spiraling into chaos, none more illustrative than the Chinese Cultural Revolution. An initiative that began with intentions of equality devolved into a runaway train of mob dynamics, driven by reactionary, group-fueled violence that targeted anything linked, however tenuously, to Western elitism. The outcome was tragic irony—a revolution that circled back to foster a police state, the very antithesis of its original aims.

To navigate away from such pitfalls, the concept of a Reality Group, as proposed by the author, emerges as a beacon. Picture a collective not lost to egos or petty squabbles but rooted in a shared pursuit, a testament to the true power of cooperative endeavor.

Amidst this exploration of group dynamics, another human characteristic weaves its narrative: entitlement. Like an insidious vine, it creeps into our sense of self, often without invitation, and has found a particularly fertile ground in the institution of monarchy. Yet, entitlement is not a crown jewel but a weight, anchoring us to antiquated notions of unearned homage.

Consider Queen Elizabeth I, a monarch whose legacy shines not for what was her due by birth, but for what she earned through leadership. Rejecting the hollow lure of sovereign income, Elizabeth I invested in her people, steering her choices toward what would serve the realm's greater good, and not merely the gilded echelons of the crown.

Elizabeth I's reign teaches us that a deep sense of entitlement forges not loyalty, but resentment. Strive, instead, to be worthy of recognition through the vigor of your efforts and the readiness to shoulder blame when due. Embrace the strength found in selfless acts that put communal welfare before personal gains. By tearing down the delusion of entitlement and resisting the surge of groupthink, we pave the way for genuine respect—a respect hard-worn and deeply rooted in the fertile ground of our collective human experience.

Channeling our innate aggression into positive outcomes and strategic victories

Embedded deep within our genetic blueprint is a primal instinct—aggression. It has sharpened our survival skills, emboldened our pursuits, and propelled our species to the apex of the natural world. Yet, how we choose to harness this force can shape destinies and businesses, as evidenced by the storied rise of John D. Rockefeller.

Rockefeller emerged from the shadows of a tumultuous upbringing, marked by a father's unpredictable cons and absences, which ingrained in him a fervent yearning for financial security and order. To Maurice Clark, his business partner, Rockefeller appeared as a devout, mild-mannered man, save for an exasperating insistence on business expansion. Little did Clark realize that this was a strategic display of controlled aggression, a masterful push that would lead to his buyout and pave the way for Rockefeller to forge the colossus that was Standard Oil.

Rockefeller epitomized the archetype of a sophisticated aggressor—not one who lashes out wildly, but one who deciphers the human terrain with acute precision, leveraging understanding into the acquisition of power.

We all carry the seeds of aggression within us—suppressing this energy does not eliminate it but mutates it, spawning passive aggression or, worse, internal conflicts that gnaw at our own peace. Instead, acknowledge aggression's place in your psychological composition and channel it constructively.

Trace the roots—whether they wind back to insecurities, authoritarian figures in your past, or an embattled childhood—isolate the source of the aggression. With understanding comes the power to direct this energy toward our ambitions, harnessing its raw force to cement our tenacity, bolster our courage, and drive us toward noble ends.

Moreover, a keen awareness of aggression's nuances allows us to detect its currents in others. Grasping that aggression often veils vulnerability enables us to navigate complex social battlegrounds, outmaneuver those who wield aggression as a blunt instrument, and savor the profound satisfaction of outthinking those who attempt to intimidate.

By transforming aggression from a lurking specter into a catalyzing ally, we carve out a path that is not only assertive but enlightened, where the might of our will aligns with the broader pursuit of personal fulfillment and collective progress.

Generations shape the tapestry of society, and mortality lends perspective to our lives

Human progress ebbs and flows through the ages, much like the rhythmic tides influenced by celestial forces. This concept was not lost on the Egyptian historian Ibn Khaldun, who in the fourteenth century, mapped out generational cycles into four distinct archetypes: the revolutionaries, the stabilizers, the comfort seekers, and the inquirers. Not bound by iron-clad rules, these cycles nonetheless offer a lens through which to view the interplay between successive generations.

Take for instance the cadence of the twentieth century in the United States: the Silent Generation emerged from the somber notes of the Great Depression and the turmoil of war, embodying conservative virtues. The baton then passed to the Baby Boomers, defiant and explorative, splashing vibrant colors over the canvas of the counterculture movements. Generation X soon followed, pragmatic and self-reliant, casting a wary eye toward perceived duplicity. Riding on their heels, the Millennials cultivated a narrative of collaboration, distilling an aversion to conflict and a yearning for unity.

In a world ever more intricately woven together, understanding these generational narratives becomes pivotal. As global trends reach across continents and touch myriad cultures, appreciating the historical groundwork of today paves the way for navigating the emergent ethos of tomorrow.

Yet, if there is one constant that slices through the generational fabric, one stark reality that each soul must confront, it is death. This mighty leveller, often shrouded in the realms we dare not tread, holds profound influence over the human spirit. While turning a blind eye to our mortality may seem the easier walk, embracing the finitude of life can be transformative.

Death can be a clarion call, a summons to a life vibrant with purpose and creativity. It is the silent whisper that we are all part of an intricate dance, swirling on this celestial stage. The same specter of mortality that beckoned American scribe Flannery O'Connor to embrace life with zest and compassion, the sudden clarity that washed over Fyodor Dostoyevsky after his brush with the abyss—it's a universal thread that binds us.

So cast off the autopilot, lift your gaze from the mundane and look upon existence with fresh eyes. Savor the sheer marvel that is life on this extraordinary planet. Now is the time to craft something wondrous, a testament to this fleeting, precious existence we share. Let mortality not be a shackle, but a catalyst for greatness, a wellspring of empathy, a nexus from which a life of profound significance can unfurl.

Embrace your nature, master your life

Dive into the complexities of human nature, and you'll find that we are governed by forces both profound and pervasive. The laws of our being — encompassing irrationality, narcissism, envy, foresight, aggression, and our relationship with mortality — shape our choices, our relationships, and ultimately, the course of our lives. Acknowledging these facets of our personalities may challenge us, but this acceptance is the first step on the path to self-improvement.

Recognizing the impulse to irrational behavior allows us to step back, view our actions through the lens of logic, and make choices that are in our best interest. Identifying the shadow of narcissism within can lead us to healthier self-regard and a better understanding of our fellow humans. By acknowledging our envy, we learn to channel it as a driving force behind ambition and ingenuity, rather than a source of discontent.

Foresight enables us to look beyond the immediate horizon, strategizing for the long-term rather than reacting to the present. By owning our aggression, we can redirect this energy toward constructive pursuits, fueling our aspirations with ferocity and focus. And by confronting the inevitable fact of death, we transcend mere existence, transforming our lives into vibrant, empathetic, and purposeful journeys.

Human nature intertwines us in a shared tapestry, where the threads of our lives are remarkably similar. Embrace this kinship, and let the understanding of our shared nature elevate your empathy, connecting you more deeply with the world around you. The laws of human nature are not chains that bind us but keys that can unlock a deeper understanding of ourselves and lead us towards a more enlightened, empowered existence.

The Laws of Human Nature Quotes by Robert Greene

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