Saturday, July 10, 2010
What's the deal with persuasive people? They're scary! Have you ever been around someone impressive and thought, "I'd believe anything you said right now!" You know who's like that? The Most Interesting Man In The World from those beer commercials. He could talk me into randomly amputating a limb.
Que the grainy video footage of a strapping man feeding baby eagles on a perilous cliff-face. The slide-show continues with equally impressive clips. Mexican theme music fades and a strikingly handsome older gentleman looks directly into the camera: "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis."
Yes. Yes, me too. I want to be like you. I want to be the second most interesting man in the world. I shall drink your beer. Everyday. Alone in a broom closet, because I'm not allowed to drink. I'm a missionary. If you can call it that. My mission field is the Unreached Paper Groups on my boss's desk. It's uncharted territory. Just the kind of adventurous work the second most interesting man in the world would do. But I digress.
Anyway... I'm having issues with the power of persuasion. It's the verbal version of emotional worship. Ever been to a stilted worship service? You can sense that you'd better end up on the floor weeping whether or not God knocks you over. Don't yell at me I know it happens; I've led it! Unless I'm the only worship leader who knows the two-chord-crescendo. Here's the formula:
2 chords + 1 repeating word + 5 minutes of escalating music = breakthrough!
I didn't invent this, right?
I never was a musician, but man could I talk. At least in my mind I'm eloquent. Once during a floundering job interview I told the restaurateur that if Michael Jordan wanted to play for his basketball team he would hire him regardless of the roster. "I'm the Michael Jordan of serving!" I shouted in my most authoritative voice. That's me being persuasive. And cocky. And desperate. Didn't get the job. Maybe I'm not as good as I think.
But some people are crazy persuasive. Today my buddy almost had me convinced that infanticide was a good idea. Persuasive. Especially considering the fact that I just fell in love with my first niece. Good effort; poorly timed.
The problem with persuasive people is that they can also be easily persuaded. And that's been bugging me. I know this the same way I know about worship tricks. Because I was a professional persuader. I owe people years of their lives back for twisting their arms to go overseas. Not entirely true. Most of them loved it and are still going back. But that's because they're amazing.
I used to be known as the guy who could talk people into anything. Now look at me. I can't even convince myself to shower. And I'm wondering about all the persuasive people that inspired me to reach for the stars. They helped me believe. But who persuaded them to be persuasive? And what if they were as screwy as me?
It's made me seriously reconsider persuasive power. When a guy on stage is speaking with enough electricity to cause a blackout, is it because he REALLY believes it, or is it misdirection so we don't notice it's full of holes? I for one, was great at the old 'yell-my-way-through-the-weakest-point' technique. If I ever get on stage again, which I hope never happens, I'll whisper just to make sure I'm not tricking people into agreeing with me.
It's not that I think spiritual leaders are fakes. It's just that I'm realizing you can't pedestalize them. Because then when somebody screws up, like, say... me... for example, it sort of makes you wonder if you can really trust anybody. Especially persuasive spiritual people.
I still think about this Bible School kid all the time. Man, did I let him have it. I twisted his arm in every direction about why he needed to come to China. I used guilt. I called him proud and immature to his face. (This is funny because I'm proud and immature.) The real reason I wanted him? He was good looking. No kidding. I thought if a good-looking popular kid came to China it would validate me as a leader. Turns out I'm still trying to make up for that latent Jr. High rejection. Which is swell and everything; except when I'm visiting my residual insecurities on unsuspecting college kids who think I'm an awesome leader. What if the poor kid listened to me? Geez!
It's hard not to wonder how many weird motivations leaders have when they're being all powerful and stuff. If I was that screwed up, it stands to reason that some other people are too. So what does that mean for us? Does it mean that we can't trust people? Does it mean that we shouldn't allow ourselves to be persuaded?
I don't think so. I don't totally know why yet, but I feel like isolating-autonomy is never the solution. I do however, think that important decisions are worth a second or third opinion. Just don't ask me. I'll be drinking Dos Equis in the broom closet with the Unreached Paper Groups.