The Ten Types of Humans

It is safe to say I am obsessed. Perhaps it is the Psychology graduate within me, or my penchant for lengthy challenging books, but I fell head over heels for The Ten Types of Humans when I read it earlier this week.

The author, Dexter Dias, a QC and human rights barrister, from the very beginning hits readers with the questions: Who are we? What are we? What is inside us? and makes you question your answers throughout the book.

The Ten Types of Humans has a devastating story behind its creation. Dias was working as a lawyer for Pam, the mother of Gareth Myatt, a 15 year old boy who died in prison at the hands of officers, when she asked him “why did they do it?” This question, Dias says, was his professional duty, but also his personal quest to answer. So he set out on the journey that became The Ten Types of Humans as he tried to explain and understand the intricacies of human thoughts and actions and ultimately, our capabilities.

Through a combination of neuroscience, social psychology, human rights research and real life stories the questions above are examined in depth. The book travels from post-quake Haiti, to a rescue in Southern Siberia, to hospital wards in the UK where Dexter’s own daughter lies. During these journeys you meet children sold into slavery by their own parents, victims of acid attacks, and individuals facing locked in-syndrome with courage and humour. But these are not just case studies, Dias travelled the world meeting the people contained within the book and you can see how these stories impacted him on every page.

Ultimately, we meet ten people, ten people who we all are or could be. The Kinsman asks: if a gunman was in your child’s school and you had the chance to save them or a classroom of 26 other children – what would you do? The Kinsman type epitomises the intensity of relationships with those who share our genes. How many other lives are worth that of your own child? How do we feel about our own family?

Then there is The Aggressor. For this type Dias travelled to the Central African Republic, against the advice of legal colleagues, international aid workers, journalists and almost everyone else. The Central African Republic was being torn apart by violence and destruction, humans were being the worst they can be. The Aggressor examines how blighting human-on-human violence is while most people would never want to hurt others.

The type that stayed with me the most (currently – my mind keeps changing) was the Tamer of Terror. I cried a lot throughout this book but the sheer resilience of the individuals used as examples for this type overwhelmed me. Humans have a complicated relationship with our own mortality and for this type Dias intertwines terror management theory with the experiences of those living with locked-in syndrome. If you only read this book for one thing, read it for Dawn, a woman who everyday tames the terror of being paralysed while simultaneously living her life.

There is also The Perceiver of Pain, The Ostraciser, The Beholder, The Tribalist, The Nurturer, The Romancer and the Rescuer.

I don’t think these types are an exhaustive list, but they are the modes of ours brains that have resulted from evolution, from what we have faced in the past. Attempting to categorise the human brain and the complexities of human actions into ten types may seem simplistic. But Dias makes it clear that “our behaviour is influenced by where we are, what we are taught, what we learn, what we experience. Nurture matters. But so does biology.” Evolution is not the be all and end all of who we are. Society and social interactions are crucial and how we relate to each other is central to the types of humans offered up in this book.

The final lesson is that “we can counter damaging behaviour of one type by triggering another”. These types do not live harmoniously within us but we are always able to denounce the bad types by turning to the better types. We are the ostracisers and the ostracised.

I finished this book feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the terror of humans, the strength of humans and the unpredictability of the potential paths our lives can take. Dias has spent his professional career fighting against FGM and this book frequently returns to this struggle. On its pages I met women subjected to FGM by their parents who vow to end the familial cycle of FGM. Their stories and the stories of the other individuals found within this book left me ultimately, hopeful.

Buy The Ten Types of Humans here:

Photo: Andy Hall/The Observer 

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