Updated: Jul 2
I’m going to make a claim and then attempt to persuade you to believe it. I can’t make you believe me, but I hope to do so.
What's wonderful about persuasion is I get to express myself while allowing you to maintain your own opinion. Occasionally, when I catch myself using coercion instead of persuasion (or when someone points this out to me), I feel badly because I don’t want to be an insufferable person.
Here is my claim:
Central to all human interaction
It is my observation that persuasion is everywhere around us. Just how ubiquitous is persuasion?
Teaching anything involves persuasion.
Asking a girl out on a date is an act of persuasion.
A baby’s cry is an act of persuasion for food or comfort.
Having a discussion about anything involves persuasion.
Interacting constructively with coworkers is an act of persuasion.
Providing required services in order to keep a job is an act of persuasion.
All TV newscast, news periodicals, and documentaries are acts of persuasion.
All fiction is persuasion: getting the reader, viewer, or listener to believe a story at some level.
When we smile at someone we don’t know, are we not trying to persuade the person into believing that we acknowledge and perhaps even appreciate him or her?
When interacting with strangers, is it possible not to persuade? Imagine entering a supermarket, doing some shopping, standing in the checkout line, and finally leaving the store. Is there any point in that experience when you’re not persuading someone?
What about when you are alone, but you don’t put a product back where you found it?
What about when you pick up a piece of trash so the next person who enters the aisle finds it clean?
What about when you’re alone and reading a book? A-hah! Finally, an action that doesn’t involve someone else. But the person who authored the book is attempting to persuade you.
Artists and sculptors use paint and marble to persuade onlookers that they’re looking at a woman, a village, or a bouquet of flowers instead of paint on a canvas or a piece of marble.
How better off would you be if you had the ability of great persuasion?
If people like you, then you have won 80% of the battle. – Johnny Carson
My day job requires that I convince a fair number of people to spend a portion of their workday helping me. Many employees where I work are in my position, where they must solicit the help of others on a regular basis.
What is just as joyful is when they ask me to help them.
How to persuade?
I don’t want to turn this into a “how-to” manual, but when you’re trying to persuade someone of something, you must consider the following:
Flattery will get you far.
Choose your words carefully.
Exercise both patience and persistence at the same time.
Make the request/issue seem beneficial to the other party.
I don’t advice you to read books on how to persuade people. I’ve never read one. Instead, lightly try to be persuasive with people about simple issues. No book can tell you how to do this because what works on one person won’t work on another. We’re all different from each other. Learn why certain attempts fail, and then alter your approach the next time.
As wonderful as persuasion is, what is even more amazing is non-detectable persuasion—which is like a superpower. What if we could persuade people without their knowing it?
For those of you who are writers, that's exactly what fiction is: non-detectable persuasion. Good fiction shouldn’t feel persuasive. The reader doesn’t want to know how he or she believes the story. Once the reader detects the trick, or worse, realizes he or she is being preached to or coerced, the magic vanishes, and the story becomes distasteful.
No one likes to be lectured when all they want is to be entertained. Yet, this is happening more and more in movies and TV shows, which is making me like them less. Maybe this is way I’m learning how to write my own stories.
The opposite of persuasion
If persuasion allows the free expression of ideas, what is the opposite of persuasion? I suggest the opposite of persuasion is coercion, belittlement, and bullying.
Coercion, belittlement, and bullying aren't really opposites of persuasion because they also persuade. But they’re abuses of persuasion, so I’ll call them “effective-opposites” of persuasion, or just “opposites” for short.
Where in society do we find the “opposite” of persuasion? Such is found in the recently evolving “Cancel Culture” spreading across the country.
Liberty: Freedom to express ideas
Cancel Culture: Prohibition of ideas
I disagree with many policies, events, and products in this world. They’re everywhere around me. But I've never thought to engage in “cancel culture” behavior. This isn't because I usually get my way and therefore don’t understand people who aren’t recognized or appreciated. The public routinely buys, supports, watches, and votes for people and principles of which I strongly disagree.
People have been arguing over principles and ideas for thousands of years. Sometimes one side wins, and sometimes the other. The public must understand that “not getting your way” is a part of life.
Those who support groups who are disadvantaged are to be commended. Those supporters should honorably do their best to persuade governmental leaders to establish laws to protect disadvantaged groups and then urge political leaders to consistently enforce those laws once they're enacted.
The following table summarizes the differences between healthy persuasion and unhealthy coercion, bullying, and cancel culture:
Lack of Hope
I believe that acts of persuasion require at least some degree of hope that the interaction will bear fruit. A healthy discussion also requires a minimal level of respect and trust between participants.
Those who engage in "cancel culture" believe that the opinions or positions of the recipients of "cancellation" are not worthy of even existing in the public square, that the influence of such people, positions, or products should simply not exist at all, that their side of the story should never be heard. I believe that "cancel culture" is the opposite of hope, respect, trust, and love.
I believe that healthy persuasion is a manifestation of love. Someone who is loving can go anywhere in the world, and regardless of language and culture be able to express love in some fashion that can be felt by the people in those areas. I believe that deep inside we are the same and we feel the same things.
Getting down to those deepest feelings requires love. Perhaps there are some people in this world who are untouchable. But I’ve yet to know anyone who cannot be affected at some level by patient, heartfelt persuasion over time.
The ability to patiently persuade is a skill we must develop over our lifetime if we’re to really help those around us. While we're trying to become better, we need to give other people that same time and opportunity to develop through patient persuasion.
Persuasion before the modern age
I believe that our loss of civil persuasion can be blamed in part on our ability to shout at each other from great distances. By that, I mean with use of television and radio. In the past we were limited to writing the best and most effective words possible to convey our message. This was because back then the reader got to decide how long he or she wished to read the materteral, and how much thought he or she wished to put into it.
Now, generally, whoever shouts the longest and hardest in front of a camera wins.
Compare modern-day arguing with the except below, written in 1788. Whether you agree or disagree with the sentiment, note how packed the wording is with persuasive words and phrases.
To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway than the mild and beneficent sentiments of peace; and that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting tranquility would be to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.
— Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 34, January 5, 1788
Maybe someday in the future, when it isn't all about volume and force, we can get back to exchanging in a more reasonable, thorough, and instructive manner.