Your Way

Chapter 7

"...Society is not an end but a means, the means by which each individual member seeks to attain his own ends. That society is possible at all is due to the fact that the will of one person and the will of another find themselves linked in a joint endeavor. Community of work springs from community of will. Because I can get what I want only if my fellow citizen gets what he wants, his will and action become the means by which I can attain my own end. Because my willing necessarily includes his willing, my intention cannot be to frustrate his will. On this fundamental fact all social life is built up." (Ludwig Von Mises)

Influence by means of reason is based on the fact that my will and your will find themselves linked in a joint endeavor. In a division of labor society, I can get what I want only if you get what you want. My will finds itself included in yours. I hate that! I want my will to rule. But I also want to partake of the benefits of the division of labor. I want to stay out of Wotan's Dilemma. So I need an attitude adjustment. I need to decide once and for all whether I want to deal with people or with robots.

To deal with animals or with robots, what I want is control. I do the thinking. To deal with people, I want influence. We all do our own thinking, and then we adjust it so we can work together. Exactly what is the process of adjustment? Is it negotiation or bullying?

Bullying is an attempt at control by intimidation—fear. What's known by observation about the effect of fear is that it is unpredictable. In order to use bullying as a method of influence, you have to preselect only the people who will respond well to bullying. How do you do this preselecting? Is it a random method, or a logical method? Damn! In order to make bullying work, I have to use reason. When I have separated the wimps from the wolves, I have this impulse to ignore the wimps and deal with the wolves.

In the end, the question always becomes, how do I deal with self-regulating sovereign individuals? The more I polish the question, the brighter the answer shines. I deal with sovereign individuals by negotiation. But I still hate that, because it sounds like I have to compromise all the time.

Is that what we're doing when we decide about lunch? I say the lunch counter; you say al fresco. I say noon; you say one. So we eat at twelve-thirty at the lunch room's outside table. Neither of us won. Or is it that both of us won?

There is a mutual desire here on which we refuse to compromise. In order to converse, we want to be in the same place. We have a common goal. We have a discussion aimed at synchronizing our actions so we can avoid compromising this goal. It is a negotiation aimed not at compromise but at avoiding compromise.

The error of the control freak is the error of confusing negotiation with compromise. It is the error of the mechanic who refuses to tighten a nut because the wrench is missing, and it would be compromise to tighten it with pliers. It is the error of the executive who stays home because the car broke down, the taxis are busy, and it would be compromise to take the bus. The mechanic compromises his principles by leaving a loose nut. The executive compromises his principles by ignoring commitments. The control freak compromises principles by declaring details more important.

We accommodate one another on details in order to avoid compromising our principles. It is a common misunderstanding of negotiation to think it is aimed at compromise. Such is never the case. Diplomatic negotiation, business negotiation, and personal negotiation are always aimed at accommodation in order to avoid compromise. If there is no agreement on fundamental principles, there can be no negotiation. Negotiation begins only when a common principle exists on which neither side will compromise. Then they are willing to accommodate in order to avoid compromise.

In diplomatic documents, vague language is standard. In everyday speech, loose word usage is normal. So it not surprising that diplomats talk about compromising on borders, or businessmen talk about compromising on lunch. Such usage has nothing in common with the valid resolve never to compromise on principles. What is meant in loose speech is accommodation. The purpose is to avoid compromise.

We live in a community of wills. We want to cooperate for common advantage. That is the fundamental principle of society. If we compromise this principle, society ends. Every motive works in the direction of cooperation. Others want to cooperate with you. They want you to have your way in order that they may have their way. There is no need for mind control; all non-criminal minds are working for the same goal. There is no reason to think that negotiations would not succeed; everyone involved wants them to succeed.

What makes social cooperation so powerful is that each separate mind is unique. What one mind lacks, another supplies. What I do poorly, you do well. In combination, we can succeed in anything. We only need a method of accommodation—a way to synchronize our minds.

Adjusting our thinking to include other ways of thought is something we all do all the time, in order to improve our lives by working together more efficiently. Our minds are expanded, not threatened, by new ideas—as long as we have a method for combining our ideas without disruption or disrespect.

Such a method will have two parts:

  1. discovering where our minds differ, and
  2. adjusting them to work together.

The first part is called discussion; the second, persuasion.

Discussion can take many forms. It can be easy-going, or contentious—even violent. It can be dialog or diatribe. It can use flowery speech, or nods and grunts. It can stick to one topic, or encompass the universe. It has a broad purpose, discovery.

Persuasion has a narrow purpose. It reconciles one difference at a time. It can have only one form, cooperation toward a goal. It can have only one method, reason. It never seeks to substitute one mind's thought for another's, but to make one mind's thought accessible to another mind.

Of course, in the process of discussion, we may reconcile our differences and synchronize our minds quite spontaneously, without any apparent persuasion. What this means is that we are both good at it. We don't think of persuasion as struggle, and we don't keep score.

No compromise is involved in persuasion. I do not synchronize my mind with yours by meeting you halfway. That would be mere pretense — a game with words. If we differ on the facts of reality, then we investigate and find out what the facts are. The persuasion consists of pointing out ways to investigate. It consists of suggesting methods, not trying to own facts. If we differ in our evaluation of known facts, then persuasion consists of making my process of evaluation understandable to your mind. Mutual understanding is what we want, so we can avoid compromising our goal.

No force is involved in persuasion. We freely choose to cooperate; we want to synchronize our minds, so that we can improve our lives by working together. So it is not the case that persuasion sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Since we each are in full control, there is no way we can fail to synchronize minds if we want to.

What can happen is that I can think we have gone beyond discussion when we haven't. I can think that my eloquence is overwhelming your will, while you are letting me make a fool of myself. I can assume that my logic is forcing you to agree, while you are observing how different my use of logic is from yours. I can be impatient to reconcile our differences while you are content to go on exploring them.

There are people who say, "I love life but I hate effort." They ignore a contradiction. Life is self-generated action, and effort is self-willed action. The two are the same thing viewed from different angles. It's like saying, "I love to watch the sun go down, but I hate sunsets." Most disagreements are like that—a failure to notice that the same thing is being referred to from different angles. Such disagreements are not really about facts, but about the method of fitting facts together in the mind.

To persuade me to make an effort, then, you would start by asking about the difference between what I don't like, effort, and what I do like, life. Since I'm making a distinction without a difference, I may feel dissatisfied with my thinking in that area. I may be inclined to accept your help in reconciling my inner conflicts about effort. Or, I may not. By considering the question, however, I have accepted your influence. Your question is incorporated into my thought. You set out to influence me by means of reason, and you have succeeded.

Mere success, however, seems for some not enough.

The question here is, do you want influence by means of reason, or glory by means of influence?

It is entirely laudable to want glory, fame, or gratitude. There are many good ways to get those things. Persuasion is not one of them. Patrick Henry's speeches were all the more stirring and inspirational because he understood the connection between influence and free will. However, his speeches are not examples of persuasion, but of oratory. Ayn Rand's novels have convinced millions of the value of reason, but they are examples of great art, not persuasion. That which stirs you or inspires you to action does not, except as a metaphor, persuade you to act—any more than an oncoming truck persuades you to be afraid, or a scream persuades you to jump. If persuasion is everything, then it is nothing.

Persuasion is intentional influence by means of reason. The question is, whose reason? If it is the reason of the persuader, then persuasion is a form of argument. If it is the reason of the one being persuaded, then persuasion is a form of negotiation. Let's examine the secret that solves the riddle of persuasion.

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