March 09, 2009

The Tao of Ben

The late great Benjamin Franklin had considerable diplomatic skills whether he was pursing his many interests or that of his country. One insight that greatly contributed to his success was an early insight that arguments and forcible assertions seldom convince other people and may even have the opposite effect.

It's the old fact that if you push people, they usually push back.

In his early years, Franklin admitted to a fondness for argumentation. After reading about the life of Socrates, he even experimented with the Socratic method:

I was charm'd with it, adopted it and dropt my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer and doubter...I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis'd it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause observed.

After a while, however, he gave up the practice,

retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me , or I should think it so and so for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken.

And that made all the difference:

This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade me into measures that I have been from time to time engag'ed in promoting...I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information and pleasure.

NOT GOOD NEWS. The unemployment rate jumped to 8.1 percent in February. Here's an analysis of the numbers by Dean Baker.

WAS IT ENOUGH? In light of that and other bad news, recent efforts to jump start the economy may not have been bold enough.

REUNITED. Efforts are in progress to reunite labor unions into a single, large umbrella organization.

EITC. Here's an op-ed by yours truly on the effort to enact a state Earned Income Tax Credit for families with low and moderate incomes in WV.



Wabi-Sabi said...

So Ben doesn't think my Twitter exchanges with @karlrove will change his mind? Hmm...


El Cabrero said...

I think Ben was talking about persuadable people.