Your Way

Chapter 14

"Do something, even if it's wrong!"

That's the slogan of modern pseudo-persuasion. Would-be persuaders take the desire to influence as the means of influence. No matter how fancy the rhetoric or how sly the trick, the essence is always the same: a demand to do it my way. Buy my product because I want you to. Vote my way because I say so. Believe my theory because I believe it.

That is what results from defining persuasion as one will mastering another. Persuasion becomes the enemy of free will. The result of regarding persuasion that way is that it disintegrates. It dashes itself on the rock of human volition.

In order to read this book, you had to have the ability to control your mind. Since you have that ability, you can learn to detect all my tricks and discount all my rhetoric. Since I cannot get inside your head to make adjustments, I must content myself with dealing with your mind as it is. Pretending that your mind is weak might allay my anxiety, but it does nothing to increase my skill.

The real reason that modern persuaders exalt trickiness and debase reason is simply that they lack skill in persuading. Since they do not even know what persuasion is, they do not know how to do it. Whenever they succeed in some random influence, they declare their expertise, and become consultants. Then they go on pretending that minds do not control themselves.

The effort to bypass volition is not hard to detect. Here are a few symptoms:

That last is a fundamental giveaway, because it is often presented as a method of persuasion. If so, it is a familiar one to parents; pre-schoolers use it all the time.

Persuasion as influence by reason depends on mental self-regulation, which makes reason possible. Persuasion is thus an ally of volition and not an enemy. Since volition is a characteristic of individuals, each individual is unique. To reap the benefits of social cooperation, individual minds must have methods to work together. Those methods are called persuasion.

By using persuasion, individuals adjust and accommodate so they can work together without compromising goals and principles. The division of labor, on which rests all modern prosperity, could not exist without influence by means of reason.

Persuasion uses reason, but not argumentation. The reason used is that of the mind being persuaded, which views argument as an example of another mind's reasoning. To use argument for influence, one says, "Here is the way I reasoned through this thing. See if it works for you." That is, one points to the method. Demanding agreement would be an attempt at giving orders—influence by force.

That's one means of persuasion: point to a good example and recommend the method exemplified. Persuasion is about methods to reach a common goal, so its best method is to ask: "Does your way work? Would my way work better?" That means good persuasion includes two skills: the skill of analytical listening, and the skill of clear explanation.

To persuade me is to assist my reason in the job of reaching a common goal. I am not being manipulated, but helped. I have no reason to dislike being helped, and every reason to cooperate. Thus persuasion is reliable and predictable; it has nothing in common with huckstering or politicking. It does not insinuate ideas; it points at facts and methods.

Since persuasion tries to accommodate different minds to the same goal, it often uses negotiation. But this does not involve special skills; it is a simple recognition of each individual's capacity to decide what to do. It is a mutual effort to avoid compromising principles. The skills involved are the normal ones of social cooperation.

There is good reason for this idealized version of persuasion: nothing else works. To confirm this, ask. Ask the politician whose clever campaign elected his opponent. Ask the advertiser whose sly tactic has almost a fifty-fifty chance of success. Ask the corporate intriguer who is looking for alternative employment. Ask the social reformer—if you can get him to stop issuing orders.

There is nothing immoral about getting your way. It is not some arcane and intricate process best explained by Prince Machiavelli. It is social cooperation, accomplished by means of reason. It is an open, honest, straightforward process. You deserve to succeed, and, when you know what you are doing, you will.

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