Influence and Persuasion- Personal Example #2

I mentioned in a previous post how as a child I wanted my younger siblings to follow my lead. I wanted them to take my instructions as law, but they didn’t respect me, because I had not put in the time to earn that respect. And if that meant they didn’t want to play what I wanted that was one thing, but they would even stage mini-rebellions when I was just being the messenger for Dad and Mom.

“No!” I would say. “You have to listen to me. Dad and Mom said we have to clean this up, so you have to help me do it.”

I felt that my authority was absolute in this case, but they would ignore me all the same. Not because they didn’t respect Dad and Mom, but because they didn’t respect me as their emissary. And no matter of invoked authority was going to make them view me in the same light as the parents.

In those moments I felt an intense aggravation. They needed to do what I was saying, and I had to find a way to make them do it. And that resulted in all manner of shouting and threatening and shaking by the shoulders.

Then one day I realized something. If you need to make someone do something in that very moment…then you’ve already lost. I realized that the campaign for someone’s loyalty is won out long before the moment of need. It has to be sown long in advance.

So if you haven’t already put in that time beforehand, you don’t stand a chance. Then you will be tempted to force them to comply through fear and anger, which might get you what you want in the moment, but will make them resent you even more, and they will be all the less willing to comply next time.

I’m glad to say that after realizing this I started to treat my siblings differently. I stopped trying to make them respect me, and instead got them to know that I liked them. I played with them, I made things for them, I taught them how to ride the bike. I learned how to be nice with no strings attached. I won their hearts at quiet times when I didn’t need a single thing from them.

And then, when I was the emissary for Mom and Dad, and I told them we had been commissioned to do some chore and needed to work together, they happily agreed.

Influence and Persuasion- Matthew 20:26-27, Doctrine and Covenants: 121:46

But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

COMMENTARY

Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant
Yesterday I examined some verses that spelled out the divinely approved method for obtaining influence over others. And they were full of words like persuasion, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, and kindness. Which honestly sounds like a great deal of work! In fact it doesn’t sound like the work of a leader at all, but that of a servant.
And as it turns out, this is exactly the same methodology that Jesus taught to his disciples. It seems a paradox, but his process for gaining power over others was to just serve them. He assaults us with love until at last he wins our hearts.

Thy dominion shall be everlasting, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee
And going back to those verses from yesterday, after they conclude detailing the service we ought to employ as our means of influence, they then provide a promise. We are told that our dominion will just flow unto us. After we have sown love, loyalty will flow back to us of its own accord. It will come without “compulsory” means.
Maintaining power is the exact opposite for tyrants that rule by intimidation and force. Nothing flows to such leaders, they must go out and hunt for every ounce of control they have. They must domineer every servant at all times, and if ever they slack off then their power is gone.
Virtuous leaders invest themselves in their people. They plant their own goodwill, and reap the loyalty that naturally grows from that seed. There is no domineering and no forcing, just service flowing out and then flowing back in, pulsating, like the rhythms of a heart.

Influence and Persuasion- Doctrine and Covenants: 121:39, 41-42

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile

COMMENTARY

It is the nature of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, to exercise unrighteous dominion
It has been said that one of the best ways to really know a person is to see how they treat their inferiors. When they are in a position of power (whether it be a boss over their employees, a parent over their children, or a pet-owner over their pets) how do they behave towards them?
I was the middle child growing up, and there was definitely a difference between how I interacted with my older siblings and how I treated my younger ones. I felt subservient to my older siblings, and I would try to please them so that they would include me in their games. Meanwhile I felt superior to my younger siblings, and to them I’m afraid I felt the same tendency described in this verse: “to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood
Primarily this dominion took the form of “you should do what I say because I have authority.” Not priesthood authority in this particular case, just an “I’m older” authority. I felt that I was entitled to their obedience because I was bigger than they, and I was not okay if they challenged that belief.

Only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned, by kindness, and pure knowledge
Of course my younger siblings did not care for this arrangement. And who could blame them? I didn’t want to be lorded over by my older siblings in that way, and neither did they didn’t want to be lorded over by me.
We all wanted older siblings who earned our respect. Siblings who didn’t take our obedience for granted, but who put in the time to care about us, help us, and play with us. When an older sibling did that, then they could ask a favor and easily receive.

Influence and Persuasion- 1 Kings 12:13-14, 16

And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him;
And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.

COMMENTARY

And the king answered the people roughly, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
I finished my previous post by mentioning that Satan’s methods of influence are designed around getting immediate results. Fear and intimidation are powerful motivators, ones which cause people to do what is wanted in the moment. No doubt this was Rehoboam’s desire when he spoke so roughly to the Israelites and promised a harsh hand as their ruler.
And he is far from the only tyrant that has been willing to employ these methods. I am sure that each of us can recall times that these same methods have been used on us, forcing us to bend to another’s will. I am sure that we can also recall times that we used these methods ourselves at the expense of another.
The temptation to use fear and intimidation is powerful because they really can be effective at getting what we want for ourselves in the moment.

The people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David.
But those “in the moment” results come at a great cost. So long as the will of another is bent to your own they will hate you, and in return for their momentary obedience you sow their eventual rebellion. Rehoboam saw this firsthand.
I am reminded of an experience I had with a mother on my mission. She explained to me that she knew the church spoke against beating one’s children, but she was seeing much better results ever since she had resumed the practice. I can absolutely believe that her children fell in line for the moment, but long-term she was sowing hatred in the hearts that should love her best.
So many of us are willfully selling the love and loyalty of those we care for, simply because we have to have something right now.

Influence and Persuasion- Matthew 23:37, Nehemiah 9:30-31 (NIV), Psalm 103:8

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples.
But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

COMMENTARY

O Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee
By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention
Yesterday I looked at the example of how Satan tries to force certain behaviors from us, and the methods of fear and manipulation he uses when we resist him. Today I want to look at the example of how God influences and persuades His children when they resist the behavior He wants for them.
And as it turns out, the entire Old Testament is a lesson in exactly this! So many of its passages are focused around a chosen people who will not meet their better nature. God wants one thing, they want another, and we get to see how He deals with that conflict.

How often would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples
And the first of God’s methods I find is that of patience. We see that patience first in how he handles the rebelling of His children. He would gather them, but they refuse, and so He lets them go. He does not try to force them, He lets them choose, and then He lets them reap the natural consequence of those actions.
God cautioned Israel that their neighboring nations only meant them harm, but Israel still chose to make friends with them and adopt their philosophies and theologies. And rather than try to interject Himself, God just let things play out.

In your great mercy you did not put an end to them, for you are a gracious and merciful God
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy
And what is it that God is patiently waiting for? For His children to finally return. Even though they betrayed and abandoned Him, He still waits to give them love. Here we see His second and third principles: to be merciful and forgiving.
He lets us choose for ourselves, He lets us go when we choose to leave, but He’s still there for us when we return. In each step He waits for us to act under our own volition. There is none of the “forcing” we saw from Satan, only patience and mercy.

Influence and Persuasion- Moses 1:12-13, 19-20

And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.
And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?
And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.
And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.

COMMENTARY

Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me
Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded
Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell
Satan wants Moses to do something for him. His first approach is to “tempt,” trying to coerce Moses into behaving the way he wants him to. Moses is resistant to that, and Satan responds by getting loud and angry, now trying to frighten Moses into doing what he wants!
Coercion and fear. This one scriptural example gives us a very clear picture of Satan and his methods, and it is a picture that we are all too familiar with. For Satan has taught these tactics to all mankind, and we have been quick students of the form. I am sure we can all recall times that another person has tried to manipulate and frighten us into giving them what they wanted. I am sure we can all recall times we have used these tactics to get what we want, too.
Of course, this method requires a great deal of energy from the forcer, as they must submit the other against their will. And obviously the person being forced will not be converted to the cause, they will only remain subjugated so long as they are under the power of the controlling force. It is only their behaviors that are being influenced, not their inner desire. Thus, even from a pragmatic standpoint it is an unsustainable method, and sure to falter sooner or later. But more importantly, it is unquestionably immoral and abusive.

Influence and Persuasion- 1 Kings 18:21, Matthew 26:41, Exodus 8:28,32

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: entreat for me.
And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.

COMMENTARY

How long halt ye between two opinions?
And Pharaoh said, I will let you go…And Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak
We find multiple examples in the scriptures of people that are of two minds. The Israelites try to conflate two incompatible theologies into one. Pharaoh says he’ll let his slaves go, but his hard heart keeps holding on. The apostles want to stay up with their beloved master, but they’re just too tired to do so.
Clearly the strife between competing thoughts and desires is not only between different people, but also within us. We have different voices inside that want different things, and each side debates against the others.
The question of how to persuade and influence others is also a question of how to persuade and influence our own selves. The mystery of how to change the world for good is the same as the mystery of how to change ourselves. Indeed, coming into harmony with ourselves is a prerequisite before we can hope to bring harmony to those around us.

Influence and Persuasion- Contention

Before really diving into this matter of “good” and “bad” ways to influence and persuade others, I wanted to address the fact that words like “influence” and “persuade” feel like they are taking on a more negative definition of late.

When two people debate about their different desires or beliefs, they can easily find it a negative experience, where each has their feelings hurt and grows more divided from the other. Repeated experiences like these might start to make one feel that “influencing” and “persuading” are synonymous with “manipulating” and “coercing.” To proselyte starts to be seen as just forcing your opinions on others.

But while these conversations can turn negative, they really don’t have to. I am sure each of us can recall a situation where we had our minds changed, and it was done in a way that left us feeling edified and improved. We can have a conversation that is mutual, where each side contributes to a greater whole, and where truth is found in the intersection of core beliefs.

Or put another way, each of us has an ego, and when that communicates with another ego, only contention can occur. But also we each have an eternal spirit, and when that spirit feels directly spoken to by another eternal spirit, it awakens and remembers itself. Then we see the truth in what is being shared, and are convinced in a wholesome way.

And this is the sort of experience I want to pursue with this study. I want to understand what it is that makes those moments work, and how we can actively work for them in all of our interactions with each other.

Influence and Persuasion- Question

The mission of the gospel is to persuade all to come to Christ, convince us of the need for the atonement, and encourage us to embrace our divine role. As disciples we are expected to testify of and promote that gospel. It is assumed that we will be an active part of that persuading, convincing, and encouraging.

But persuading, convincing, and encouraging can be misconstrued into intimidating, manipulating, and coercing. Clearly a cause can be championed in a way that is good, but also it can be championed in a way that is evil. And there are many that begin with sincerely good intentions, but then fall into methods that are not so worthy.

Using the example in the scriptures as my guide, I want to identify what a divinely approved method of persuasion would look like, and what it would not look like. How does God, Himself, try to influence us? How does Satan? And what are the short- and long-term effects of those different methods?

In the meantime I would love to hear about your own experiences on the matter. Can you recall a moment where you felt persuaded by good? One where you felt intimidated by evil? What are wholesome ways that you have found to communicate with those that disagree with you? What have been the short- and long-term effects of that approach?

A Surety of Truth- Proverbs 1:5, Philippians 4:18

A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

COMMENTARY

A wise man will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels
Yesterday we discussed how even if we don’t know how to do everything perfectly, we are still meant to try our best. We should move forward with the definition of “good” as we understand it in the moment, and then be open to improvement and correction as we go. Not only this, but we should even seek out that improvement, looking for mentors to instruct and correct us along our way.
At first we may not feel a need to seek out mentors. We’ll likely find that we already have them by default. With the family we were born with and the friends we came by in our youth, most of us have already put together an entire council to direct us without any conscious thought on the matter.
At some point, though, we ought to take a look at who we are being influenced by, and ask ourselves whether they are worthy to that have power over us. They might be or they might not be. “I’m your father” or “I’ve been your friend since grade school” are not reason enough, they need to have something more.

Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
As I’ve chosen which mentors I will hold onto or let go of in life, I have found the qualities mentioned in the verse above to be an excellent guide. I do not just look for mentors that speak about these qualities (there are many who invoke these words without meaning), I look for those that actually live them. I want to be led by people whose good words are matched by the lives they are living. I want to be led by example, not just dictation.
When I find someone whose life is in complete harmony with their principles, when I find someone who has integrity through and through…then I know that I have found someone I can learn from.