Thursday, August 06, 2009

Persuasion

I was just commenting on a post about the recent uproars in townhalls across the country. In general, I cheer on my fellow citizens in going directly to their representatives and asking questions and demanding to be properly represented. However, I am dismayed to see how often it turns into a shouting match. I know people are upset. I know they have a lot to be angry about. But once you give in to those feelings, and you harrangue your debate partner, you have already lost. They will not listen. You are not presenting yourself well.

While it feels good in the short term, and you feel you have won the battle, you may be sacrificing the war for your own momentary personal feelings of glee. Show some self-discipline!

One of the greatest persuaders ever was my buddy, Benjamin Franklin. He studied and practiced long, long hours to hone his skill. He writes about some of it in his Autobiography:

From The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

While I was intent on improving my language I met with an English grammar (I think it was Greenwood's) having at the end of it two little sketches on the arts of rhetoric and logic, the latter finishing with a dispute in the Socratic method; and soon after I procured Xenophon's Memorable Things of Socrates, wherein there are many examples of the same method. I was charmed with it, adopted it, dropped my abrupt contradictions and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer. And being then, from reading Shaftesbury and Collins, made a doubter, as I already was in many points of our religious doctrines, I found this method the safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took delight in it, practiced it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people even of superior knowledge into concessions the consequence of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.

I continued this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence, never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; It appears to me, or I should not think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or, I imagine it to be so; or, It is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting. And as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning and sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive assuming manner that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat most of those purposes for which speech was given to us. In fact, if you wish to instruct others, a positive dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may occasion opposition and prevent a candid attention. If you desire instruction and improvement from others, you should not at the same time express yourself fixed in your present opinions. Modest and sensible men, who do not love disputation, will leave you undisturbed in the possession of your errors. In adopting such a manner, you can seldom expect to please your hearers or obtain the concurrence you desire.


When was the last time you changed your mind because someone shouted a slogan at you? Or kept you from responding? When was the last time you thought to yourself, "Wow! You just humilitaed me and harranged me -- I think you're so right!"

It is very hard to remain jovial, curious and pleasant when you feel your fundamental rights are being trampled on and stimped into the dust. But you must keep your goal in mind and figure out the best way to get there. No one ever said it would be easy.

2 comments:

Henry Cate said...

You make a great point.

I often refuse to discuss many issues with people who have stated they have a position opposite mine because it is rarely fruitful.

If someone doesn't seem to have a stance on a particular issue I'll try to gently share my reasons for my viewpoint.

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