Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The other day I was reflecting upon a recent idea I had: how successful you are depends on your ability to convince other people to do what you want. If you expand the definition of "success" to include a wider variety of conditions, including success in daily life, to success in your career, to success in love. The word "success" could be broadly defined as "your ability to achieve happiness." Really, I think that we have a very strong, instinctive desire to convince other people to do what we want.

Of course in your career, success depends on your ability to convince others to try your ideas, or to convince your superiors that you have done a good job. But convincing others could be as simple as telling a waiter to bring you food. In that case, there is an inherent understanding between you an the waiter that you have money and that you will pay the restaurant that employs him if he will do his job and serve you the food you order. Due to the circumstances, little convincing is needed, but of course you do need to at least follow the rules of society. Being excessively rude or obnoxious, or refusing to pay, will usually not convince the waiter to bring you anything at all. In this situation, being polite and having enough money is all that you need in order to convince the waiter to do your bidding.

Other people are good looking, and it is their physical attractiveness that does the convincing. Of course, physical attractiveness isn't necessarily a simple thing. Some people are born physically attractive, but without spending time on being masculine or feminine, according to the rules of your culture, it will be more difficult to convince other attractive partners to pay attention to you. Without spending some time to make your appearance more perfect, for example by buying stylish clothes, you will have difficult convincing potential partners to spend any time with you. Those who are attractive have control as they have the ability to convince people to do what they want, whether it be sex or anything else they may want. Those who are not attractive are powerless, and are forced to simply accept or reject potential suitors who approach them, if any.

My hypothesis is that this desire to convince other people to do what we want is connected with our social survival instincts -- strength in numbers. Lots of friends means more strength to survive. Its not so surprising then that we have regard for people with charisma, that we like to hear popular people agree with our point of view, or that we become offended when someone says something contrary to what we believe.

Further, if other people agree with us, then we know we need to work very little to convince them to be an ally. If they do not agree with us, they are competitors. They are members of an alternative group of people willing to destroy you and your ideas in order to achieve their own happiness. Perhaps even worse, they will convert you and your allies to their point of view using fancy methods of convincing -- after all the work you had put into your own way of life, now you must convert? How dare they!

Anyway, this inherent desire to convince other people to see your point of view seems to explain a lot about the world we live in, so it seems like an interesting hypothesis. Why can't we all just get along? Well, assuming everyone in the world thinks exactly the same things about every issue all the time, then I am sure we could.


James said...

Astute point. It does all come down to that; convincing people to hire you, to be your friend, to have sex with you, to swallow, to lavish you with praise.

I will put forward that the powerful don't need friends so much as allies; people who will help you out with the idea that it will come back to help them one day.

Ramin said...

Good point. Thanks for the comment!