7/8/14 What Happened to Persuasion?

Please be warned. I am writing this on my tablet. It is likely to be rife with typos which I will fix later. The touchscreen keypad is too small, the screen too tiny to see the words, and I detest typing anything on it other than a short note.

Have I persuaded you that I do not like it? Are you convinced? There is a difference.

The verb “to persuade” and necessarily all its conjugations are disappearing from our modern English lexicon in favor of “to convince.” I find this unfortunate, since I maintain that the two words are not synonyms. Persuasion is what one person attempts to inflict on another. Convincing is what one does to one’s self. I can’t convince you of anything; I can only persuade you, or try to. Our convictions are not easily changed, or else they are not really convictions. It takes some serious persuasion to get one to change long held convictions.

Persuasion is always on its best behavior. Frequently, convincing is an annoying stridency since the convincer is frustrated that you don’t already share his convictions, and even more frustrated that his convincing seems unlikely to get you to change your own. The persuader understands this and struggles to keep his passions in check so that the prospective persuadee will stay engaged in the conversation. Perhaps the persuader can get the persuadee to state his real objections, which are often occluded behind a facade of false objections. The convincer never makes it that far. He is cut off in mid-sentence by a mind that snaps shut like a steel trap on a novice trapper’s finger.

Yet, we do not like to be persuaded. It is the Amway rep who tries to persuade us to join his multi-level scheme. It is the Electrolux salesman that tries to persuade us of our need for a new vacuum cleaner. It is the life insurance salesman that tries to persuade us of our own mortality. We detest persuasion, yet we like convincing even less….but convincing is what we want. We earnestly desire to be convinced, but convincing never comes from external sources…we convince ourselves. Frequently, our having become convinced is the result of someone else’s persuasion.

Persuaders understand this. Convincers never do. Thus we have acrimony and strife since convincers, convinced of their own convictions, become angry when you do not share them. The persuader already understands that you do not share his convictions, thus his attempt to persuade you to change them. The persuader understands that he can appeal to your passion, your ego, your reason, or even your fears…but calling you an obstreperous ingrate or something worse not printable here is unlikely to persuade you of anything other than the triumph of the faux-persuader’s convincemanship. The persuader may indeed fail, but resorting to convincemanship is his most certain, swiftest route.

“What can I do to convince you to purchase the deluxe Electrolux canister vacuum kit with the free mini-blind attachment, today?” the Full-Cleveland clad vacuum salesman asked me.

“You can’t convince me to do that,” I replied. “You can try to persuade me that I need one. If I convince myself that I cannot live without the immediate purchase of your marvelous vacuum, I will buy it forthwith, perhaps even require you to reside here with your demo model until my own personal life-altering vacuum safely arrives. I may even be persuaded to pay you the inflated suggested retail price without trying to browbeat you into some low ball figure by making mention of my next door neighbor, the Kirby salesman wife, whose wife is my wife’s best friend.” Of course, the Kirby part was an outright prevarication, but Mr. Electrolux didn’t know that.

The Electrolux man squirmed in his seat at the mere mention of Kirby and neighbor. He did not know that I had already been successfully persuaded by a prior demonstration and was now thoroughly convinced that the Kirby was the better machine. It was better not to tell him now, since he was doing so well. He seemed new at this and needed more on-the-job training. I might invite him back later to offer him a written critique of his sales technique. I wouldn’t charge him very much, either. I was convinced he needed more training in the gentle art of persuasion.

“Well, then, how can I persuade you?” He asked.

“Well, you must keep on trying, of course” I said. He then re-commenced his persuasion with a will.

Too bad he wouldn’t sell them on credit or I very likely would have bought half-a-dozen at the full suggested retail price, for I am convinced that it matters not how much you charge the man who has no intention of paying; you could charge him double and tell him so for all he cares. I will not try to persuade you of this truth…every man becomes convinced of this by the benefit of his own experience, and having learned it the hard way, it becomes a firm conviction which no amount of persuasion will undo.

Persuasion? Please give it your best efforts.

Convincing? If your persuasion is successful, my convincing of myself might outpace your persuasion to the point where you’re still persuading without having heard me say, “I’ll take it.” There is great value in listening if one will be a successful persuader. It never occurred to Mr. Electrolux to listen.

“But, I’m not through, yet,” he complained, anxious to get on with his spiel. “As I was saying before you interrupted me, you have your choice of a red or blue model.”

“What?? Red or blue? No green?” I was shocked.

“No, sir. Red or blue only,” said Mr. Red or Blue Electrolux.

“Well, I had my heart set on a green one. The whole time you were talking and I was looking at that red monstrosity, I was thinking how nice that would look in green. Come back when you get one in a nice British Racing Green,” I said, ushering him out the door with his vacuum and all 1,167 of its separate attachments.

A good persuader would have stopped talking when I said I’d take it. He was wanting me to be convinced, too. He’d have done well to settle for the one and left me alone to my own convincing.

Sometimes that is too much to ask.

Of that, I am persuaded. Or am I convinced?


©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp



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