The most essential thing in the world to any individual is to understand himself. The next is to understand the other fellow. For life is largely a problem of running your own car as it was built to be run, plus getting along with the other drivers on the highway.
The greatest problem facing any organism is successful reaction to its environment. If you don't fit you must move or change your environment to fit you. If you can't change the environment and you won't move you will become a failure, just as tropical plants fail when transplanted to the Nevada desert. There is something that grows and keeps on growing in the Nevada desert—the sagebrush. It couldn't move away and it couldn't change its waterless environment, so it did what we must do if we expect to succeed. It adapted itself to its environment, and there it stands, each little stalwart shrub a reminder of what even a plant can do when it tries!
You know a rose, a violet, a sunflower and an orchid and what perfume you are sure to find in each, by the same method. All are flowers and all belong to the same species, just as all human beings belong to the same species. But their respective size, shape and structure tell you in advance and on sight what their respective characteristics are. The same is true of all human beings. They differ in certain fundamentals but always and invariably in accordance with their differences in size, shape and structure.
Look into the mirror the next time you are angry, happy, surprised, tired or sorrowful and note the changes wrought by your emotions in your facial muscles. Constant repetition of the same kinds of thoughts or emotions finally makes permanent changes in that part of the body which is physiologically related to these mental processes.
The jaw is a good illustration of this alliance between the mind and the body. Its muscles and bones are so closely allied to the pugnacity instinct center in the brain that the slightest thought of combat causes the jaw muscles to stiffen. Let the thought of any actual physical encounter go through your mind and your jaw bone will automatically move upward and outward. After a lifetime of combat, whether by fists or words, the jaw sets permanently a little more upward and outward—a little more like that of the bulldog. It keeps to this combative mold, "because," says Mother Nature, the great efficiency expert, "If you are going to call on me constantly to stiffen that jaw I'll fix it so it will stay that way and save myself the trouble."
Every human being is born with preferences and predilections which manifest themselves from earliest childhood to death. These inborn tendencies are never obliterated and seldom controlled to any great extent, and then only by individuals who have learned the power of the mind over the body. In as much as this knowledge is possessed by only a few, most of the people of the earth are blindly following the dictates of their inborn leanings. In other words, more than ninety-nine per cent of all the people you know are following their natural bents in reacting to all their experiences—from the most trivial incidents to the most far-reaching emergencies.
The individual is seldom conscious of these habitual acts of his, much less of where he got them. The nearest he comes is to say he "got it from his father" or "she takes it from grandmother." But where did grandmother get it? Science has taken the trouble to investigate and today we know not only where grandmother got it but what she did with it. She got it along with her size, shape and structure—in other words, from her type—and she did just what you and everybody else does with his type-characteristics. She acted in accordance with her type just as a canary sings like a canary instead of talking like a parrot, and just as a rose gives off rose perfume instead of violet. This law holds throughout every species and explains man—who likes to think himself a deep mystery—as it explains every other creature.
Human Analysis is the new science which shows you how to recognize the slow man, the quick man, the stubborn man, the yielding man, the leader, the learner, and all other basic kinds of men on sight from the shape, size and structure of their bodies.
Every individual does best those things which permit him to act in accordance with his natural bents. This explains why we like best those things we do best. It takes real enthusiasm to make a success of any undertaking for nothing less than enthusiasm can turn on a full current. Nothing is more unsafe than to attempt to judge the actual natures of people by their clothes, houses, religious faith, political affiliations, prejudices, dialect, etiquette or customs. These are only the veneer laid on by upbringing, teachers, preachers, traditions and other forces of suggestion, and it is a veneer so thin that trifles scratch it off. But the real individual is always there, filled with the tendencies of his type, bending always toward them, constantly seeking opportunities to run as he was built to run, and forever striving toward self-expression. It is this ever-active urge which causes him to revert, in the manifold activities of everyday life, to the methods, manners and peculiarities common to his type. This means that unless he gets into an environment, a vocation and a marriage which permits of his doing what he wants to do he will be miserable, inefficient, unsuccessful and sometimes criminal. Every crime, like every personal problem, arises from some kind of situation wherein instinct is thwarted by outside influence.
Human Analysis teaches you to recognize, on sight, the predominant instincts of any individual—in brief, what that individual is inclined to do under all the general situations of his life. You know what the world tries to compel him to do. If the discrepancy between these two is beyond the reach of his type he refuses to do what society demands.
Learning to read men and women is a more delightful process than learning to read books, for every person you see is a true story, more romantic and absorbing than any ever bound in covers. Learning to read people is also a simpler process than learning to read books because there are fewer letters in the human alphabet. Though man seems to the untrained eye a mystifying mass of "funny little marks," he is not now difficult to analyze. This is because there are after all but a few kinds of human feelings. Some form of hunger, love, hate, fear, hope or ambition gives rise to every human emotion and every human thought. Now our actions follow our thoughts. Every thought, however transitory, causes muscular action, which leaves its trace in that part of the physical organism which is most closely allied to it.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg eBook, How to Analyze People on Sight, by Elsie Lincoln Benedict and Ralph Paine Benedict)