Persuading through shedding the ego and agendas
My seven-year-old son from at least the time he walked has had a knack for being right when he believes a person is of good quality all around. Less often now than before, he would often walk right up to people and say hi. If they did not respond, he would not get disappointed, but would keep saying hello a few times until they responded, apparently figuring that they were preoccupied somehow, not that they were spurning him. Most would ultimately react with a smile.
Does my boy really know who the best people are, or does he help bring out the best in others, or is it a combination of the two?
Of course, plenty of adults respond more favorably to young children than to adult strangers, because they see children as less of a threat, if any threat at all. What has our society come to when people are so suspicious of each other? It probably starts with all those grade school assemblies when students were warned never to talk to strangers or to go anywhere with them. Those assemblies never told me what motivated any of the “bad strangers” — pedophilia and the like — so I learned early on to adopt a dualistic world view of good people versus bad, open minded people versus virulent bigots, Underground Railroad heroes versus Hitler and those who murdered in his name, kind people versus nasty ones, law-abiding people versus criminals, those who would not steal a penny versus those who would mug me, or worse. I learned the language of fear early on in my life, and it took many years to unlearn it.
The magic mirror takes hold. We can interpret the straight face or scowl of others as something to recoil from or to stay far away from, or we can see it as a part of our very existence. Watch what happens when you give a genuinely warm greeting, smile or nod to a straight-faced stranger whom you pass on the street, in a hallway, or on the other side of a glass door, without surmising what caused the straight face (gas, you (do you remind the person of someone they not like, do you yourself look straight-faced, do they disagree with something you said online or elsewhere, or are they prejudiced against you for any reason?), worry, discomfort, a generally unhappy disposition, or recent trials and tribulations, for instance?) and without having any agenda other than share warmth, kindness, or even humor, with both yourself and others.
If you are expecting kindness or any acknowledgment in return for your greeting, you are less likely to get it, because selfish agendas raise suspicion, discomfort, and defenses.
This blog entry was in part spurred by my recently passing a straight-faced-seeming man in the morning. I was in a particularly good mood, which is common for me, all the more as each month unfolds into the next, and I felt compelled in the moment to give him a warm hello and smile. His entire disposition changed. He smiled big and gave me a warm greeting back with a Southern drawl. Perhaps his disposition changed because he was happy to receive warmth without an agenda. Perhaps I woke him up to know that he had a straight face, while he perhaps was deep in thought or concern. Without an agenda, though, the why’s are unimportant about why he looked straight faced one moment and was bubblingly friendly another moment. The idea is that we persuade people best when we have no selfish agenda in interacting with them.
How do I bridge this concept of no selfish agenda with persuading for my clients as I deal with judges, jurors, prosecutors, and opposing witnesses? Ideally, once I internalize that my client’s cause is on the side of the angels, I can internalize all the more on being on the path of an angel, and having everything unfold positively and persuasively from there, starting with being inspired to expend full energy and devotion — while being energized in return — to my client’s cause, full compassion and caring for my client and everyone else, and full optimism in sharing with others why my client should be vindicated, and at least partially vindicated if others are not willing to agree yet with full vindication (for instance getting partial vindication for a client caught red-handed making multiple cocaine sales, by still experiencing a conviction, but giving him little to no incarceration, instead letting him show whether he can redeem himself while on probation).
People will be less likely to trust you and to feel at ease with you if you do not trust them or feel at ease with them. The magic mirror takes further hold.
Why do some athletes and entertainers (actors, musicians, artists, and comedians) immediately turn listless and cranky people around to beaming with happiness from ear to ear, when other people strike the same people as downers, hemorrhoids, or downright threats? For one thing, the people who get a positive reaction from others, even if they have an agenda, are attuned to what others want at that moment and in life, by listening; by intuiting; by caring; by shedding their own egos, obsessions and neuroses; and by giving of their full selves.
The Dalai Lama is one of my favorite people. This man with the weight of so many people’s suffering and plights potentially on his shoulders goes through life with the wonder and joy of a young, carefree boy. He is said to talk to everyone the same, from dishwasher to bureaucrat to front-page People magazine figure.
I once asked someone who has hanged with the Dalai Lama, only partially in jest, whether the two of them ever high-fived one another. The Dalai Lama seems that accessible and that playful.
Recently, I found this interview with Krishna Das — born Jeffrey Kagel, and a former singer with a precursor to the Blue Oyster Cult before he found his spiritual path in India over forty years ago — in which he underlines why the Dalai Lama is so widely loved. It is because the Dalai Lama lacks fear, is fully invested in the happiness of others, is always giving, has no selfish agenda, hides nothing about himself, and fully shares himself and his caring with others. For him, there is no separation between him and others; we all are one. That is the real Dalai Lama at all. time, never judgmental, nor angry at the Chinese government and “security” apparatus people who inflict so much misery in Tibet. Krishna Das calls the Dalai Lama’s gift spontaneous compassion, and being able to laugh compassionately even as others go through angst and worse.
Each of us can be as loved as much as the Dalai Lama, without needing to put on robes nor shaving our heads, nor changing our jobs nor where we live, and without fame, a title, or an entourage. Easier said than done, but each of us can get on and pursue that path.
The world is full of daily challenges. Unemployment remains high. War and threatened war is all over the place. Violence remains the hair-trigger option of choice for so many. Today’s blog entry about persuading without a selfish agenda is not about taking a syrupy Shirley Temple overly optimistic view on life, but is instead about transcending the perceived boundaries in making this world a better place, and our lives much more happy and fulfilled in the meantime. For me, as a lawyer, taking the foregoing path at once makes me a happier and more fulfilled person, and a better persuader. The two (or three) go hand in hand.
Thanks to the straight-faced seeming stranger, Krishna Das, and the Dalai Lama for inspiring my foregoing thoughts.