Skip navigation

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.


One Comment

    • Dom
    • Posted January 27, 2006 at 11:08 pm
    • Permalink

    I must have been sleeping while reading that earlier post coz I couldn’t recall that topic! Here I will tell you my thoughts on this. Believe it or not, I actually think we will only act upon something if it benefits us. Even what one might consider a pure act of kindness benefits the giver: it makes him/her feel better, whether it be the feeling of superiority or getting rid of the guilt that would otherwise be present if no action was taken.

    You also mentioned something about us being better than mere beasts. Does that mean we should follow different rules than animals do? I strongly believe humans too should follow the rule of ecology: survival of the fittest. Sure enough our society more or less obeys that rule, but it stops when the weaker members’ lives are threathened. In the animal world, the elder, the weak and those with disablities would be the first to die (and therefore unable to pass on their genes). This is not the case with human. I believe that the explosion of our population is going to kill us all, so to speak. So which is more important, the human race or the human sympathy? Even now I have trouble deciding.

Comments are closed.