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Monthly Archives: January 2006

Some days people shock me more then I should probably let them, and sometimes it is over the most trivial and minute details. However the narrowness of their perspective and conceptual focus surprises me. These are Elders, people with much more experience of the world then I have, who have travelled many thousands of miles and seen many countries. Surely they should not be making such simple errors. But they persist in doing so, and so my faith in them weakens a little. In many ways I am no longer the accepting child that I used to be, though I know in many more that I am not yet a man in the proper sense. One such way that I retain my childish role, is that I still ask too many questions. Of that one I am proud.

The current principle is a simple one of the art of persuasion, and I would not think myself remiss to say that it is the most fundamental one. The idea is simple, and has been said in a famous quote by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations that I have used previously in my meandering scribbles. It goes simply:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner but from their regard to their own interest.”

While I was previously condemning it as a societal institution, and my reservations regarding its instrumental values not withstanding, I do heartily believe that as principle of interpersonal conduct, and when interpreted in that light, or used to predict how larger groups will behave, that it is a correct quote. I do not dispute that it is how things are, but I am not yet willing to accept that it is how things should be.

The interpersonal principle that I extract and thought was axiomatic of common sense is simply identified as thinking from the other person’s perspective. If you want them to do something for you, or you expect them to do something for you, you would be a mighty fool if you did not think what incentives and what reasons they might have for doing what you want them to do. You can recite lists, pages and pages if you want, of reasons why it will make your own life easier and how it will create additional efficiency in the organisational structure or that planning and resource allocation will be simplified. But if you are addressing to another arguments like this, then you must surely realise that you have utterly failed. Your reasons are to me meaningless, unless your wellbeing has special meaning to me, and that therefore the smoothing of your path will suffice as reason for me to accept an inconvenience. Chances are that to most of the people you interact with, you fail to make such an impact. I despair that men who ought to be wise do not heed such simple lessons when taught, or will soon insist on forgetting them without engraving them on to their souls. How is it that they are willing to be so remiss?

The core conception here, and why to me it is so important, is that of focus on the other person’s reasons and thoughts. You have to be willing to walk through a request from their perspectives. What labour and time are you asking of them. What better things might they have to do with this time? A thousand times these questions must be asked, and every person should be their subject. This is the only way to arrive at persuasive argument. Reason is a cogent and logical tool, but it is only that, for it is not by itself a proper means of persuasion of another being. We are not robots, and to pretend and argue like we are would be foolish. To persuade is to appeal through and beyond rationality. A human being intuitively understands much that he cannot comprehend rationally, and does not even know that he knows. We are much more then our rational brains, and so our art of persuasion requires equally as broad a reach. We must dissolve cold reason by treating it with a humanising touch, an application aimed at the true nature of people and what they are likely to respond to.

But it subtly demands greater things of us. It requires a sacrifice of the ego, an abandonment of ourselves as the pivots of our egocentric universes. It requires understanding that others have interests and desires different from our own which they are right and entitled to own. That they hold things critical which we consider peripheral.

This requires a functioning openness of mind, a willingness to be explained things but then to challenge the explainer to justify things. It cannot function without such questioning, such intellectual rigour. But it is seldom that the world is truly conducive to such inquiries, and there time and place must be definition therefore be chosen with care and consideration.

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It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely

the most important.
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I used to think that it was a wise exhortation to never sweat the small things. It was unnecessary to be pedantic and exact in every aspect of existence. It was okay to be forgetful of small things and to bypass the trivialities that surround life. I have slowly learned that to think this is a mistake, an exaggerated shortness of perspective that makes life easier in the short term by multiplying difficulties in the long term. To think that you are one who need not concern himself with the minutiae is the mark of satisfaction with mediocrity. It involves the sacrifice of the two most important characteristics that are missed by most people but nonetheless vital in the course of their every day life.

These two attributes are that of awareness and attention to detail. Once you adopt them as a requisite of your every day, each small detail is vital, each bit of planning critical, and every bit of life vital.

Very few, a select minimal few, are really aware of what is going on about them or can see the obvious while it is outside of their immediate cares. It makes life easier, especially in the crowded metropolitan environments in which we now live. We focus on our task to the exclusion of others; we keep our perspective tied to our path, towards the aim which we have set out to achieve. When we are aware, it is usually because some not so benign agency such as the law or social pressure has mandated our watchfulness, for example when driving. Even then the transparent lack of awareness that you see from many drivers is hardly news to anyone.

The reason that awareness is important is that it makes you responsive and reactive to your environment. You have to focus on what is going on around you, and suddenly you start to notice things that you would have skipped without a thought before. Your mind is in the present, which is where it truly belongs. The past is gone, the future yet to come. Your attention must be where you are now, what obligations you have accepted and what little you can do that makes a difference. For example you notice that your routine means going around in circles, that you never leave your wallet and keys in the same place, but always take them together when you leave, that you left something on the floor and that you need to get back and pick it up. Thousands of things like this will litter your everyday experience. This is the narrow unenlightened benefit for you personally: it makes life easier and more efficient at the price of requiring an enhanced level of mental cognition on your part. A willingness to actually live in the present and in the world as you find it. Not as you wish it was, or what it

The unselfish benefit I have picked up is that you become much more alive in a rather fulfilling sense. You listen to people, and notice the hand gestures or the facial quirks. That someone seems to never talk to the person they are addressing but into space, or that some people have odd mannerisms. It tells you a lot about people that you are dealing with, because you are paying close and careful attention to them. Even the people you pass on the street take on significance; you see their dress and their style, their expression and attitude and get a feel of what they are, try and wonder at their experiences and perspectives. Life opens up, and you can sometimes if you really try, a fleeting glimpse passes of the cosmic artist’s work. That is the magic of a mind in the moment. I have called this the unselfish benefit, but perhaps it really is rather a selfish one. I believe though that to find joy in other people, in a nice way not an evil one, is perhaps truly of greater importance in life then I have as yet realised. As my thoughts are still percolating, I will say no more on this point yet. My reader is wise, and I will trust to his or her judgment in such matters.

The second attribute is that of attention. I use attention in the sense of due diligence, and not as a second way of speaking of awareness. If awareness is your mental duty to take note of your world, attention is your obligation to respond. To take stock of what you do and make the necessary changes to ensure that things flow smoothly and efficiently. It may require an alteration of priorities, a movement of furniture or simply writing an email. It prevents last minute panic and rushed jobs; it halts the difficulties for people who find themselves regularly in a rush, by requiring you to think things through in small baby steps until you arrive at your final goal. It can often feel easier to fly by the seat of your pants, to do things as they arise, or as you feel disposed to do them. It is in fact the precise opposite. The more you behave like that the harder life gets, the more your difficulties multiply and the worse things get. Such attention cultivates a healthy sense of perspective, it highlights the impact you can have, and your total ineffectualness at the same time.

These two things combined together state a pretty strong case that one has to worry about details. All life and all tasks are details. You may find it easier to think big picture, but to do so is a patent false economy because someday you will have to finish the job and paint in the small details. You will have to drop something else, perhaps something you wanted to do, to finish off what you left behind today. I can’t stress this enough, everything without exception is details. The difference between the novice and the master are the details, and the difference between those who are masters of the human art of living and the novices of this field is the same. What you think are essentials are also details, but they are just details that are more significant, or that more people have a grasp over. They are not special, not hallowed, by any other precept. They are a detail, like many others in life. For example, your birthday is not exceptional, neither is mine, but to you and to a much lesser extent me, they are important dates.

Let me be clear, these two requirements do not represent the easy way to do things. To be aware of the details of life and to take seriously your corresponding duty of attention is demanding. It requires thinking about everything you do, and doing it all the time. It requires scheduling and planning, it requires picking up the slack, and not dropping any of your own duties. It requires work. It requires effort and endeavour and a lot of it will be pulling the oars so that others might forget that this is a rowboat. It means taking on and bearing a lot of responsibility, and to force yourself to deal with it on an ongoing basis. It’s sometimes a bitter responsibility to take on, and hardly enjoyable. But I do believe that it is a fundamental attribute to the life lived well. It is the first start of a life dedicated towards something more enlightened then pure selfishness, and I doubt that the start of such a path can be bad.