Tag Archives: Arguing

How to Argue and Win Every Time by Gerry Spence

Summary

  1. Spence believes that argument begins with the person, and that to argue successfully one must accomplish more than mere technique. He maintains that success in argument, as in life, is a derivative of personal growth, of discovering who we are, and embracing the uniqueness that is individual to each of us.

Key Takeaways

  1. The art of arguing is the art of living. We argue because we must, because life demands it, because, at last, life itself is but an argument.
  2. Everyone, every breathing person can make the winning argument.
  3. The enemy is not the Other against whom our failing arguments are made. The fault is not God’s, or fate’s, or the bad luck of the draw that has left us with wee voices or unimposing presences. We do not fail to make a brilliant riposte or persuasive argument because we lack electric genius, or lightning wit. We do not fail because we possess but a sparse fund of words. We fail to make the successful argument because we affix certain locks to ourselves, locks that imprison our arguments, or, having made the argument, locks that bar us from assuming a successful stance or from adopting a winning method. The method of this book is to identify the locks from time to time and to offer the key with which to unlock them. The lock is, of course, your lock. But you also possess the key. I have fashioned this book itself as an argument—an argument that identifies the disabling LOCK and provides the enabling KEY. The structure I have devised here reflects my method of communicating with people, in the courtroom and out, at work and at home. It has been developed and refined over a lifetime in which I have been a worker, a prosecutor, a trial lawyer, a husband, and a father.
  4. If we have mastered the skills, the procedures, the methodologies, yes, even the art of argument, but are still locked behind our psychic doors, we cannot win. If we have no concept as to when to argue and when to remain mute, if we do not understand how to use power and how to avoid its devastation in our own hands or the hands of others, we cannot win. If we do not grasp the incredible power of credibility or the magical power of listening we can argue with all the skill and artistry of the greatest orators ever spawned by history, but we will never win. To win, we need a saddle, all right, but we need to mount it on a powerful horse.
  5. From the moment we were born we have been conditioned to avoid confrontation. If we opened our tiny mouth to cry, a bottle was hastily used to muffle our cries. We’ve been taught, as puppies are taught: Don’t bark! Thoroughly domesticated, we have been conditioned to comply, to remain silent, to plod on.
  6. Fear Is our ally. Fear confirms us. Fear Is energy that is convertible to power—our power. Fear is friend and foe alike, adversary and ally. Fear is painful. I hate its frequent companionship. Yet it challenges me. It energizes my senses. Like the sparrow, watching, watching, in the presence of fear I become alert.
  7. The perpetual quest for acceptance as parts of the social machinery is a form of psychic self-destruction. I am repulsed at the thought of our need to conform—to give up that which distinguishes us from all others so that we may become mere impersonations! How can one argue at all if one argues not from one’s own authority but from the inimitable imitation of another? When we imitate another we murder ourselves and, thus dead, are as powerless as the dead. As imitators we are, by definition, fakes, and the counterfeit is valueless. What a crime to commit against one’s self!
  8. I argue that when my argument begins with me, when it emanates from my authority, it will be unique among all arguments.
  9. The lawyers speak to the other jurors. They speak to the banker’s wife. They speak to the schoolteacher in the back row. They speak to the manager of a local chain store. They speak to the lineman for the electric company. But they do not speak much to her. Yet who knows more about the human condition than she? Who knows more about sorrow and poverty, and hard work and loneliness? Who is more courageous? She harbors a deep knowledge. When she speaks the other jurors will have to listen carefully, for her voice is soft and it is difficult for her to find the words. But the words she finds will come from her heart because she knows no other way to argue.
  10. Wisdom usually does not fall from high places. The mighty and the splendid have taught me little. I have learned more from my dogs than from all the great books I have read. I have learned more from my children than from all the professors who have importuned themselves upon me in the exercise of their tenure. The wisdom of children is the product of their unsullied ability to tap their innate fund of knowledge and innocently to disclose it. The wisdom of my dog is the product of his inability to conceal his wants. When he yearns to be loved, there is no pouting in the corner. There are no games entitled “Guess what is the matter with me.” He puts his head on my lap, wags his tail and looks up at me with kind eyes, waiting to be petted. No professor or sage ever told me I might live a more successful life if I simply asked for love when I needed it.
  11. We begin to understand: Successful argument is a communication between the acknowledged authority of both parties to the argument. Moreover, that I argue concedes to the Other the right to argue back. That I speak and wish to be heard admits the Other’s right to also be heard.
  12. The wife could have avoided this brawl by simply “getting on the right side of the lawnmower,” that is, for her to have said when the husband complained that the lawnmower wouldn’t start, “I wonder why? It’s brand new. I don’t blame you for being upset.” By getting on the husband’s side of the argument, she would have pulled none of his triggers and the lawnmower would have lived to mow another day. In a similar manner the husband could have gotten on the wife’s side of the lawnmower as easily. The minute she began to defend the lawnmower, all he had to say was, “I know how disappointed this must make you. Maybe I’d better read the instruction book.”
  13. Winning is getting what we want, which often includes assisting others in getting what they want.
  14. Argument and mental illness are rarely compatible.
  15. The power of the mirror, which we shall encounter again and again in these pages, did its work. Trust begets trust, and I became trustworthy. I learned again that night what I had learned so many times before and forgotten as often—that demonstrations of love, whether in the kitchen, the bedroom, or the courtroom, are the most powerful of all arguments.
  16. Learning when to argue is as important to winning as learning how to argue.
  17. Understanding Power THE PISTOL THAT FIRES IN BOTH DIRECTIONS
  18. The power peculiar to each of us is that force that distinguishes each of us from all other beings. Our power permits us to grow and to fulfill our potential. It is the surf, the swell, the wave, the storm we feel in our veins that propels us into action. It is our creativity. It is our joy, our sorrow, our anger, our pain. This energy is our personhood—the extraordinary mix of traits and talents and experience that makes up the fingerprint of our souls.
  19. Understanding how power works: Power is first an idea, first a perception. The power I face is always the power I perceive. Let me say it differently. Their power is my perception of their power. Their power is my thought. The source of their power is, therefore, in my mind.
  20. Any discussion of power would be incomplete without acknowledging Lord Acton’s immortal law: Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That unalterable rule applies both to God and man.
  21. On the other hand, when we realize that we are the source of all power over ourselves, this recognition is divinely empowering. When we understand our power, we are freed from intimidation, delivered from fear, and provided with the magical wherewithal to realize our perfect potential.
  22. Power, the pistol that fires in both directions: Power is like a pistol with barrels that point in both directions. When one with power pulls the trigger against someone with lesser power, one barrel fires in the direction of the intended victim while the other fires into the person who has pulled the trigger. As a weapon, power has little to offer. It germinates resentment and reaps hatred. It fosters the deep and abiding need for revenge. Power exercised without love releases an adverse Karma that returns to defeat us—where or when we never know. But it will return with all its destructive force, with all its gathered vengeance. Revenge is the bastard child of justice.
  23. It is clear that we require power. But the power we need is our own. The power exhibited in the winning argument may not be overtly powerful at all, for power may be experienced as gentleness, as compassion, as love, as humility, as sensitivity.
  24. To win, we must be believed. To be believed, we must be believable. To be believable, we must tell the truth, the truth about ourselves—the whole truth. Winston Churchill once said, “What the people really want to hear is the truth—it is the exciting thing—to speak the truth.”
  25. We must argue from the place where the frightened child abides. We must argue from the place where the whimpers and wailing are held back, where the anger boils, where the monster rises up and screams, where the lover and the saint and the ancient warrior fuse. That is where we must focus, in that rare, rich place, that nucleus of our being. That is the magical place where credibility dwells.
  26. As we shall learn in later chapters, we communicate not only with words, but with the various sounds of words and their rhythms. We speak with silences. We speak with hands, and bodies, with physical words—the way we pose or stand or move.
  27. Despite what we have learned to the contrary, I say we must all learn to disrobe our psyches. But before I can persuade you to take off your psychic garments I must take off mine. Pursuing the metaphor, I admit I am afraid of what I might expose were I to disrobe—my sagging middle, my pale, unenvied chest, my whatever else that might not measure up. But still I say we need to speak as if we were naked.
  28. Revealing our honest desires, asking for what we want, makes it difficult for the Other to refuse us.
  29. In my argument to the jury in the Randy Weaver case, I used a similar strategy. I told the jury straight out what I wanted. I said, “At the end of this case I want us to walk out of this courtroom together—all of us.” I pointed to my client. “I want you to free Randy Weaver. I want Randy Weaver’s children who sit over there”—I pointed to them—”to walk out with us—right out the front door of this courthouse with him and with you and with me.” I walked slowly toward the children and as I did the jury watched the children, saw their faces, saw them listening, waiting, hoping. Then the jurors looked back at me. “I want your verdict to free us all.”
  30. People are afraid to tell others what their services are worth. They are afraid to ask the doctor what the doctor expects to be paid. In a civil money case, I tell the jury outright that I want them to give my client money, and how much. When the jury retires to reach its verdict, it knows exactly what I want. Such openness also serves my credibility. How can we feel comfortable with someone who we know wants something from us but who will never be honest about it?
  31. Winning a raise by asking: I will discuss how to argue with the boss in a later chapter. But how do you ask for a raise? I say, simply ask for it. “Mr. Jones, I’ve been wanting to talk to you. But I’ve been afraid to. This morning it finally came to me that you’d want to hear me out because you’re a fair man.”
  32. “I’d like to talk to you about a raise. Could I have a couple of minutes?” Take your time. Look the boss in the eye. Now describe the work you’ve done, the loyalty you feel and have demonstrated. Identify the one thing you can do better than anyone else. Go slow with it. Why are you unique? What quality, trait, or talent, what skill do you have that no one else can match? Do people especially like you? Are you easier to talk to than the others? Do you have the ability to see a problem and find its solution before damage sets in? Are you a better organizer? Can you produce more? Speak out of your own authority. Ask for what you want. And be exceedingly straight about it. Ask for the money you want, for the money you deserve. You might add, “I know times are hard for you. I know, because times are hard for me.” Give him time to absorb what you have just said. The boss knows you have heard his prior argument about tough times. Now you have asked him to hear yours.
  33. If I were required to choose the single essential skill from the many that make up the art of argument, it would be the ability to listen.
  34. Listening is the ability to hear what people are saying, or not saying as distinguished from the words they enunciate.
  35. (The words It must have been are magical words that say to the Other, “I understand how it was.”)
  36. For if we are never heard, if we are never understood, if we are never loved, we find ourselves alone even when we are with someone. In short, there is usually a need to be heard behind the racket, usually pain behind the rage.
  37. Have you ever seen two dogs standing nose to nose, hair bristling on their backs, tails wagging in those short, stiff wags? Then someone pokes the larger of the dogs with a stick, and the larger dog attacks, not the person who poked him, but the smaller dog. People are like that. Both dogs and humans search for scapegoats. The parent often takes out his pain on the helpless child, not on the spouse who caused the pain. The foreman takes it out on the hapless worker, not the vice president who has just read him the riot act, who in turn was threatened by the president of the company, who was himself embarrassed by the board of directors, who had seen the company’s stock go to hell on the big board. It reminds me of the biblical lepers who believed that if they could pass on their disease to another they would thereby be cleansed. It is important to understand this process of surrogate rage, this anger vented not on the person responsible, but on a substitute, usually powerless person.
  38. Listening to the soul’s ear: Endless knowledge lies like hidden treasure to be gleaned if only the soul’s ear will listen. Let the soul’s ear tell us what it hears. Then trust it. I am not speaking here of something mystical. I am merely giving full faith and credit, as it were, to the vast storehouse of knowledge with which we were born and have gathered in a lifetime. As we proceed through life, our reservoir of knowledge fills, gradually, steadily, imperceptibly. Words are chosen, usually unconsciously. And how they come together—the syntax, the tone, the inflection with which the Other flavors the words—carries more information about what is being said and who is saying it than the words themselves.
  39. How can we believe such an unverified, unsupported report from within? We are taught to be logical and to demand proof. But the conscious, logical mind can gather only a few facts, wrestle with only a few concepts, and even then we are never sure of our logic, for logic is often a perilous gift. On the other hand the soul’s ear listens to whole libraries of data from which it constantly constructs its bottom line, the feeling. There is no operator’s manual to explain how the soul’s ear works. But one does not need explanation of how to operare the soul’s ear any more than one requires an explanation to the secrets of the beating heart. The heart beats. The soul’s ear hears. We can tune into the heart and hear its beat. We can tune into the soul’s ear and hear its wisdom as well.
  40. Sometimes when I am listening to the final argument of my opponent, I lay my head back, close my eyes, let the words drift by and focus only on the sounds. The sounds always carry the argument better than the words. The sounds betray the urgency, the sense of caring, the anger, the ring of truth, the power that can change the jury. If the sound of the words, no matter how powerful the words may be, does not move me, it will not move the jury. Sounds carry the meaning. It is only when the sounds penetrate and prod and awaken that I take a note for rebuttal.
  41. The manner in which jurors carry themselves is a stamp that life has placed on them. I see people who walk as if they are trudging uphill. I see women hop about as if they are sparrows about to take flight. I see young men prance like stallions in the ring. I see people shuffle, slither, slink, creep, glide, tiptoe—the way people move is their autobiography in motion.
  42. Peeping into a prejudiced mind is like opening the door to a room packed to the ceiling with junk. Nothing whatsoever can get in, and when the door opens, the junk comes tumbling out. Those whose minds are jammed with prejudice have room for little else. Growth is dead. Learning is gridlocked.
  43. Identifying personality clusters: I often rely on the “cluster concept.” People’s personalities, their likes and dislikes, their attitudes, their viewpoints, their prejudices come in clusters, as grapes come in bunches. If you examine one grape you will know pretty much what the rest of the grapes on the cluster look like. If you taste one you know how the others will taste. There may be minute differences from grape to grape, but you can bet that the grape you didn’t taste does not taste like beefsteak.
  44. Those from moneyed parents often are sentenced to private schools where they are dunked in old ink, soaked in Latin and Greek, and suffer the education of the elite. I know the arguments for a classical education. However, the point I labor toward is this: our perception of the people we deal with every day depends upon who we are ourselves. When our cluster of experiences matches those of the Other, we are more likely to understand and predict the Other than if we had not been so enriched. The working man understands another working man better than the scholar understands the working man. Nothing is sadder, yet more amusing, than to watch a lawyer who has been given a stiff Ivy League education arguing to a jury of ordinary people. His choice of words, the syntax he constructs, the metaphors he chooses, his ideas of what is persuasive to a judge and jury all reflect the pool of experience from which he operates. Often he comes off as snobbish or patronizing. It is hard for the jury to empathize with him or to trust him because its members are not familiar with his clusters. I tell young people that if they want to be fine trial lawyers, indeed, if they want to be successful in any calling, they should learn as much as possible about every aspect of the human condition, hopefully by experience. I argue that young people, as a part of their education, as a part of preparing for a lifetime of play, should work a lot. They should learn what it is to pinch a penny, to worry about coming up with the rent, to come home at night tired, to do without, to experience the joy of completing small tasks. I want my children to know a wide variety of things: how to clean a latrine, how to frame a house, how to carry hod, to lay a brick. They should know how to attend the sick, to irrigate a pasture, to climb a mountain, to write a poem, to sing the songs of people, to lie by a stream and dream, to know the joy of love and the pain of loss. I consider the young who have never had to work, worry, or struggle to be seriously underprivileged in much the same way that young people who grow up in the ghettos are underprivileged. Affluent parents most often make the mistake of sending their children off to some safe place where they are isolated from the rest of the world, after which these children are expected magically to become fully operative individuals in the adult real world. One does not prepare for a fight in the boxing ring by becoming an expert in the highly formalized techniques of ballet (although, I admit, any boxer could improve himself by learning to be a better dancer).
  45. Self-interest, the impenetrable wall: When the Other realizes that his self-interest is at stake, no winning argument is possible. This is so because the core prejudice of any living creature, man or forest fern, is for its continued existence. No matter how skillfully we may argue, we cannot win when the Other is asked to decide against his self-interest.
  46. I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.
  47. Winning, as I have previously defined it, is getting what we want. What we want in the long run is to preserve our supply of productive life for use in fruitful endeavors. We do not want to be wasted. I reserved for myself the right to determine what wars I will fight, what battles, what arguments I will make and to whom. If I were a general, I would never launch my army into a battle in which the enemy was so entrenched it would be suicide for my troops. We should care for ourselves as much as that general cares for his soldiers. Winning, therefore, is not always winning. Winning is sometimes appreciating the wisdom of a tactical withdrawl, especially in the face of immutable prejudice—in the face of this impenetrable vault that locks the mind.
  48. We no longer speak the language of the common man. We begin to favor larger words that affirm that we are, indeed, more learned than those around us. Having begun to live more in our heads than in the heart zone, we begin to think out our sentences, one fancy word at a time.
  49. Words that do not create images should be discarded. Words that have no intrinsic emotional or visual content ought to be avoided. Words that are directed to the sterile intellectual head-place should be abandoned. Use simple words, words that create pictures and action and that generate feeling. I am not as concerned about choosing the right words as I am in letting the words flow naturally. Word choosing is a mental process, a process clearly on the conscious level. When one chooses one’s words, one is involved in sorting through the mental dictionary, where one picks the words, one at a time, which is not a very good way to communicate.
  50. The strongest structure for any argument is story. “Let me tell you a story.” Storytelling has been the principal means by which we have taught one another from the beginning of time. The campfire. The tribal members gathered around, the little children peeping from behind the adults, their eyes as wide as dollars, listening, listening. The old man—can you hear his crackly voice, telling his stories of days gone by? Something is learned from the story—the
  51. Storytelling is in the genes. Listening to stories is also in the genes. It follows, therefore, that the most effective structure for any argument will always be story.
  52. The story is the easiest form for almost any argument to take. You don’t have to remember the next thought, the next sentence. You don’t have to memorize anything. You already know the whole story. You see it in your mind’s eye, whereas you may or may not be able to remember the structure and sequence of the formal argument.
  53. The simple questions of structure: And so, when we begin to prepare our argument we ask these simple questions: • What do we want? • What is the principal argument that supports us? • Why should we win what we want? That is, what facts, what reasons, what justice exists to support the thesis? • And, at last, what is the story that best makes all of the above arguments?
  54. Preparation calls into operation a simple and obvious rule of physics: Unless there is something in the reservoir, nothing can flow from it. “Nothing in, nothing out,” as computer people say.
  55. Yet after all this preparation, I will still write out the story. Writing is the process by which the computer of my mind is loaded. Writing one’s argument in longhand, on one’s word processor or computer confirms that the argument is important enough to devote the time and thought to the proposition one wishes to forward. Such an act of preparation is an affirmation of one’s self and of the importance of one’s argument. It also confirms our respect for those to whom we will deliver the argument so that both we and the Other are acknowledged as persons worthy of the effort, for we do not take the time to exquisitely prepare an argument to those who mean nothing to us, or spend our lives preparing arguments on meaningless or empty issues. The fact that we have shown the Other respect by careful preparation will be revealed in our immediate possession of the most intimate details of the argument, in the clarity of our thought and the depth of our passion. That we are committed to our argument will be proven by our preparation, and, in return, our preparation will cause the Other to respect us. Respect is a wondrous mirror.
  56. I prepare by writing my argument for yet another reason—to explore what I know. We never know what is hidden in our psychic cracks and crevices until we search for it. As I began to write my thoughts about why writing our arguments is so important, I began to consider the relationship of the physical act of writing—the use of the fingers and the hands—to the creative act—the use of the right brain. Without having thought of it beforehand, I found myself writing the following: The fingers and the creative portion of the brain are somehow joined by ancient connections, for creativity was always tied to the hands—the shaping of spear points, the fashioning of scrapers and awls, the weaving of baskets, the drawing of petroglyphs on rock walls, the fashioning of pots—all man’s creativity seems to have been tied to his hands. And so I think it is today. When we engage in the physical act of writing, a connection is struck between the hands and that portion of the brain where our creative powers are stored, so that we are more likely to produce a new idea while we write or type than while we engage in the simple act of thinking alone.
  57. How the mind works: Over the years, as I have prepared my arguments, I have discovered a remarkable similarity in the way the computer and the human mind seem to work. Since the former is the product of the latter, it is not surprising they should mimic one another. Data is stored in the mind in such a fashion that it can be sorted and retrieved in various ways. But the computer is able to retrieve merely that which it has been fed, while the mind can not only retrieve whole sentences, but reconstruct them as it pleases, gild the words with emotion, and play back the words with lyrical sound and oratorical fury, calling into service the entire body to support the argument. It can cause the hands and arms to provide appropriate gestures, the face to take on the correct expression, the eyes to gleam in sync with the message being delivered, and it can do all of this automatically.
  58. (Humor can be one of the most devastating weapons in your arsenal. But, used inappropriately, humor can also be dangerous,
  59. The selection of a theme aids us in understanding the nucleus of the argument and creates a mental image more moving than all the words we so carefully choose to describe it.
  60. The magic, the Joy of preparation: Ah, preparation! There is where the magic begins! Yet young lawyers seem disappointed when I tell them so. They yearn for an easy formula that will permit them to bypass the stodgy stuff called work. I wish I could explain to them that true preparation is not work. It is the joy of creating. Preparation is wading into life, languishing in it, rolling in it, embracing it, smearing it over one’s self, living it. I doubt you could have gotten Mozart to admit he ever worked. But his life, his breath, was his music. His argument, rendered with immortal notes, was the product of intense preparation—preparation that consumed him every day of his life. I would rather be a regular person who has eloquently prepared than a person with an extraordinarily high IQ who hasn’t been bright enough to prepare. Preparation is simply the nourishment of the heart zone. At last, genius is not some fortunate arrangement of brain cells. Genius is energy, only directed energy. Genius is preparation. I do not work when I prepare my arguments. I am not working as I write this. I am in play. I am my child when I prepare. As child, I never tire of my play. As child I am self-centered, focused—greedy for the pleasure of my play. As child I am enthralled, delighted, curious, joyous, excited like bees and butterflies and birds busy in the business of play.
  61. My opponent, of course, did not understand preparation. He mistook me for a Svengali. He had prepared to attack me rather than to learn and prepare his own case. He had little idea of the weeks, indeed, sometimes the months that I spend in lonely isolation preparing my case. What he saw, without knowing it, was a lawyer who had been freed by acquiring a fund of eloquently prepared facts.
  62. I visualize my arguments: I don’t intellectualize them. I don’t choose the intellectual words like, “My client suffered grave emotional distress as a result of the evil fraud committed against him by the defendant bank.” Instead, in my mind’s eye I see my client coming home at night and I tell the story: “I see Joe Radovick trudging home at night to face a heap of unpaid bills sitting on the kitchen table. Nothing but the cold bills greets him in that cold, empty place, the pipes frozen, the heat turned off by the power company. I see my client, a tired man, worn-out, exhausted, a man without a penny, without pride, without hope. An empty man. The bank had it all. Even all of Joe Radovick.” By visualizing the argument in human terms, we tune in to the power of the heart zone and avoid dull and empty abstractions. Abstractions are on a second level, a level beyond the action.
  63. Stick with the action—avoid the abstraction, that is the rule. When you prepare your argument, ask, “Am I abstracting or am I showing and telling as we once learned to do as children?” Remember, the power of the story is in its ability to create action, and to avoid abstraction. When someone abstracts in his argument to me, it requires me to supply the mental images on my own. Often I do not understand the abstraction sufficiently to create a mental image. Often I do not care. Often the words pass through my ears without leaving a trace.
  64. Concession is a proper method both to establish credibility, as we have already seen, and to structure a successful argument successfully. I always concede at the outset whatever is true even if it is detrimental to my argument. Be up-front with the facts that confront you. A concession coming from your mouth is not nearly as hurtful as an exposure coming from your opponent’s. We can be forgiven for a wrongdoing we have committed. We cannot be forgiven for a wrongdoing we have committed and tried to cover up. A point against us can be confessed and minimized, conceded and explained. The Other will hear us if the concession comes from us. But the Other retains little patience for hearing our explanations after we have been exposed. Presidents should learn this simple rule. Nixon could have avoided Watergate by simply admitting, “I knew about this whole messy thing. It got out of hand when zealous people, who believed in me, did the wrong thing. I wish to God it had never happened. I hope the American people will forgive me.”
  65. Empowering of the Other to accept or reject our arguments removes the Other’s fear, the fear that always defeats us.
  66. The chairman had introduced me simply by saying, “Here, in the flesh, is a living, breathing enemy of free speech, one who, by contagious hyperbole, was able to talk a jury into foregoing our sacred rights to free speech and to thereafter award his client twenty-five million dollars in damages for her alleged hurt feelings. That’s justice, right? Well, ladies and gentlemen, here is the man who knows how to butcher the First Amendment, Mr. Gerry Spence.” I stepped to the lectern and looked over a silent, hostile crowd. I felt like I had been accused of raping Little Red Riding Hood and was facing the lynch mob just before the hanging. I waited. Nothing. I waited some more. Nothing. Then I said, “Well, fuck you, too.” With that, the audience burst into great laughter. Some began to applaud, and the ice was broken. My having told the audience exactly how I felt—the truth—permitted us to breach the gap, to relate to each other, after which the audience was able to conclude that my suit against Penthouse had not been an assault on the First Amendment after all, but one to obtain justice for an abuse of the First Amendment by Penthouse for its profit.
  67. To open the Other to your argument, tell the truth. Be yourself. That’s enough.
  68. The voice plays the music of the soul. Listen to the sounds people make when they speak—only the sounds. Listen to the sounds made by your wife, by your children. Listen to the sounds made by the boss, by your colleagues, your husband. Listen to the sound of television announcers, to the preachers, to actors. Listen, not to the words, but to the sounds, and you will discover something of the person who is playing the instrument. The voice reveals who we are and how we are more than the words we choose.
  69. Charisma is energy, energy from the heart zone. If the speaker has no feeling, he has nothing to transfer and hence he cannot create charisma. We shall endure, instead, only his dead sounds, or the sound of the trained television voice that is little better than dead. Charisma occurs when the speaker’s feelings are transferred in their purest form to the Other. Charisma is not diluted feeling. It is not disguised. It is raw feeling. Charisma is the passing of our pure energy, our pure passion, to the Other.
  70. One word spoken after the argument is complete can destroy the argument. We must know when to stop.
  71. How do we express out of our hearts the feelings suffered by another? There is a cold intellectual word for it. It is called empathy. I call it crawling into the hide of the Other.
  72. The power of love, of understanding, of being able to feel the feelings of the Other vests us with a much greater power than the more common ability to attack. Love is power. Understanding is power. Feeling is power. But one cannot feel as the other must feel without first being exquisitely aware of one’s own feelings. It all begins with us. With our feeling.
  73. People who are telling the truth are not as concerned with making pretty phrases as they are with letting their souls run free. Concentrated on their feelings, people who are telling the truth speak from the heart, which is incapable of composing the precise linear thought of a plodding brain. And hearing stuff from the heart, the listener is called to listen from the listener’s heart as well.
  74. Final arguments should be stories, not strategies.
  75. Two simple elements are necessary: the first, preparation, which we have already explored in Chapter 8; and the second, mustering the courage to give one’s self over to the magical power of the self.
  76. I speak of my own feelings. I say, “Judge, I feel helpless. I don’t know how to proceed. I wish I didn’t feel so intimidated. I wish I didn’t feel so ashamed.” Magically, having faced my feelings, I no longer feel so intimidated or ashamed. At first the response of the judge may be even more caustic, but the issue is not the judge’s feelings but my own, for it is I, not the judge, who must break free.
  77. If our audience speaks and understands only English, we would be foolish to attempt a winning argument in Latin. Why then would we choose to speak to the Other with a different language from the language employed by the Other in making his decision? Why would we choose to speak to the Other in head language when the Other’s decision is always made out of the heart zone?
  78. For me, truth begins to reveal itself only in proportion to my ability to discard all that has heretofore been presented to me as true.
  79. I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.
  80. Bragging is a standard symptom of insecurity, and threatening is a universal display of weakness. The strong do not threaten. They need not.
  81. When does one attack? Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, declares, “Invincibility lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack. One defends when his strength is inadequate; he attacks when it is abundant.
  82. And the attack must always be fair. Fairness is the tiny voice that thunders from behind every argument.
  83. Two worlds always exist: one is the world that is apparent, the one we see, the bare facts; the other is the world we do not see, a world that is personal, sometimes secret, the world in which the respondent lives and acts. In defending the actions of one who wears the black hat, we must discover that world, understand it and reveal it.
  84. Here are the ten elements that make up the great power argument.
  85. Prepare. Prepare until we have become the argument. Prepare until you know every scale on the hide of the fish. Having prepared, next understand that good preparation is like writing a script for a screenplay. Proper preparation requires one to tell the story and to assign roles to the parties. Cast your side as the good guys, as the side that is unjustly accused, wrongly despised, gravely misunderstood. Cast your side as the underdog. And, when those for whom we argue cannot wear the white hat, argue their case from inside their hides. 2. Open the Other to receive your argument. You have already learned how: empower the other to receive or reject your argument. 3. Give the argument in the form of story.
  86. Tell the truth. With ordinary words you have learned the incredible power of credibility. Being who you are is powerful. Saying how you feel is powerful. To be open and real and afraid, if you are afraid, is powerful.
  87. Tell the Other what you want. If you are arguing before a jury for money, ask for money.
  88. Avoid sarcasm, scorn, and ridicule. Use humor cautiously. Hold back insult. No one admires the cynic, the scoffer, the mocker, the small, and the petty. Giving respect to one’s opponent elevates us. Those who insult and slight do so from low places.
  89. Logic is power. If logic is on your side, ride it—ride it all the way. If logic is not on your side, if logic leads to an unjust result, it will have no power. As Samuel
  90. Do not give up creativity for logic. However, the creative mind will soon see that creativity is often served by logic.
  91. Action and winning are brothers. The worst of head-on attacks is often better than the most sophisticated defense. Never permit your opponent to take control. Do not defend when you can attack. Counterpunching is for boxers, and counterpunchers most often lose. The great champions of the world take control. The great generals attack first, and attack again. Take the initiative. Do something. But with those we love, the best attack is often to attack with love, and, as we shall see, winning is often accomplished by the art of losing.
  92. Admit at the outset the weak points in your argument. You can expose your weaknesses in a better light than your opponent, who will expose them in the darkest possible way. An honest admission, having come from you, not only endows you with credibility, it also leaves your opponent with nothing to say except what you have already admitted.
  93. Understand your power. Give yourself permission—only to win. But remember, arrogance, insolence, and stupidity are close relatives. Take the winning stance. Turn on the Magical Argument. Open up and let the magic out. Trust it. Take the risk. Jump.
  94. All power arguments should begin from a position of power. By power, as I use it here, I mean the argument must begin from a position that generates acceptance or approval. We must be right, or justice must be on our side, or we must be the fighting underdog seeking redemption, or we must be the victim who struggles, smiling through our tears. We must evoke admiration, at least respect, at least understanding, at least sympathy—the latter being the weakest of the power positions. (I often say to a jury, “Do not give my client sympathy. He does not want sympathy. He asks for your understanding. He asks for justice—not sympathy.”)
  95. Let Jimmy make this right. Let Jimmy learn and grow from this. Give Jimmy another chance. You won’t be sorry.” This close openly empowers the board. It beseeches power. It is not arrogant. It permits the board to do what the speaker has asked for, and in doing so, the board can feel good about what it has done. We all want to feel good about what we do. The argument addresses the feelings of the board in a simple but direct way. The argument will win.
  96. once inside the hide of the respondent we begin to care, and as we begin to care we also acquire the power to cause others to care. The power of empathy is nearly invincible. AND
  97. Understanding that the nature of the love relationship, we also understand that all attempts to exert power over the Other are assaults on the relationship that put the relationship at risk, for when the self is diminished, so is the relationship diminished. To the extent that one wins this battle, to the extent that the Other submits, to that extent one has, paradoxically, lost.
  98. First, we want to love and to be loved, do we not? We want to be happy; we want to be secure. We want to grow, to discover. The love relationship is the garden in which we plant, cultivate, and harvest the most precious of crops, ourselves, and in which the Other is provided the same rich soil from which to grow and to bloom. If this is what we want, only a fool would diminish its prodigious possibilities by attempting to control the relationship, for control and love, indeed, control and a successful relationship, are antithetical.
  99. To excel in the art of domestic argument, one must master the art of losing.
  100. But control in marriage has nothing to do with ability or success or even manliness. Strangely, it is the opposite. Everything in the love relationship mysteriously works in opposites.
  101. Modern psychologists are taken with the paradigm of the “win-win” solution. In marriage, the solutions are more a “lose-lose” solution out of which both parties win, for in the love configuration losing provides the gift, the gift that always returns.
  102. Yet, in forty years I have never once cursed a judge. I have never once been held in contempt. I have never lost it. Why? Is it because I exhibit such extraordinary self-control? I think not. The reason I have never slipped over the edge is because I know better. I know that if I slip over the edge I will pay the price, and the price will not be worth it. I never felt the urge to take up residence in the county jail.
  103. The winning response when one is hurt is to acknowledge it and communicate it: It is the winning response because it is honest and tends to stop the progression of injury begetting injury. Exposing one’s “tenders,” becoming vulnerable to the Other, is, strangely, the best argument, the most effective way to obtain from the relationship what one wants.
  104. It was only when I realized many years later that I was in some ways a miserable failure as a parent that I began learning how to become a better one. I watched my wife Imaging. Her view of her two boys was different from my approach to child rearing. She saw her children as individuals who were fully entitled to her respect—even as infants. She listened to them. She trusted them. She gave them freedom. She never nagged them—never once did I hear her tell them to pick up their room or do their homework or mow the lawn. As a matter of fact, she wouldn’t let them mow the lawn, which resulted in their demanding the right to do so. As the important issues of their lives arose, she made room for them to make their own decisions. I found the dynamic fascinating. The more she trusted her children, the more trustworthy they became. The key to the parent-child relationship is respect. It is not enough merely to love a child. We commit the most heinous wrongs in the name of love. Most child abuse is perpetrated under the guise of love: “I punish you in this fiendish fashion only because I love you.” “This hurts me worse than it does you.” I saw Imaging treating her children as friends.
  105. The parent-child mirror: In the days of my early parenthood, I had not learned that a relationship is always a mirror—that children cannot respect us if we do not respect them—that if we use power against our children our children will use power, sometimes in perverted forms, in return. I had not yet learned that if we treat our children as friends they will treat us in kind. We do not use power on friends. We do not manipulate or punish friends. We trust friends, love friends, and help friends. We accept friends for who they are. We do not try to change friends. We do not try to mold friends into our own image. We do not punish friends for possessing the same instincts, the same raw desires, the same frailties we possess. Would that we treated our children as friends. Instead we demand that our children, as children, conform to standards we as adults have never been able to meet.
  106. Good parenting opens minds. Good parenting encourages children to ask questions and provides the child with a guilt-free environment in which to bud and bloom.
  107. Moral values are taught by example. They are taught by a mother such as mine, who during the depression years always shared the little we had with less fortunate neighbors.
  108. I believe that much of today’s crime is also a function of space. We cannot pack a dozen young rats in a concrete shoebox without their attacking and killing each other. We cannot pack millions of our young into the concrete boxes of our cities without expecting them to lash out in pain and anger and violence.
  109. The problem is, of course, that there are sides. The problem is that there is argument. The cure is for the parent to get on the side of the child, to argue for the child, and to end, forever, the war. Otherwise the parents’ argument is but the further presentation of power, and the child’s argument is not argument, but rebellion against power. Power against power, that is the definition of war.
  110. The argument with children is won many years before adolescence sets in. It is won with unconditional love, with respect, and with trust. It is won by having been the child’s advocate, the child’s friend from the beginning, without having expected anything in return. It is not a conditional love given with the expectation of future compliance or submission. It is an unconditional love that is experienced by the child whether the child responds as the parent may desire or not. It is a love that takes the risk of loving without expectation of anything in return. Between parent and child, love begets love, and power begets monsters.
  111. Perhaps I learned that children know the difference between right and wrong, that they do not need to be punished for wrongs they did not intend to commit, and that the wrong itself contains its own punishment. My father was a very wise man. He understood children.
  112. Work teaches children more about themselves than any activity I know, other than play. For myself, I was never forced to work. I was simply never given anything but a minimal allowance. I needed more money than my parents provided and found work an adventure.
  113. If you want her to hate you, force her to obey you. Force and hate are twins.
  114. Parents must rear their children toward that one day when the child begins to seek his or her freedom, when the insect, whether an ugly moth or a beautiful butterfly, seeks to abandon the cocoon. During the years between infancy and adolescence, the winning argument will have already been made. The winning argument will have been love; the losing argument, discipline. The winning argument will have been respect; the losing argument, manipulation. The winning argument will have been honesty; the losing argument, hypocrisy. The winning argument will have been freedom; the losing argument, control. If the child has been afforded winning arguments during the child’s lifetime, there is little against which the adolescent can revolt. The child will spring forth into the world with joy, not hate; with respect and love, not fury and violence. To give to the world a child who is capable of joyously blooming is the gift of the successful parent.
  115. If the boss respects us, he will pay us a fair wage, provide us ample security, and furnish us with safe and comfortable working conditions. He will listen to what we have to say, implement our ideas, and encourage our creativity. Respect. That is all we want—that the boss will not view us as disposable commodities, as a bag of rags to use to wipe the grease off the engines, and, when we are used up, discard us; that at the workplace we will not become the breathing dead; that at the workplace, despite what we think, what we do, or how hard we work, we do not become nameless, faceless units of labor; that the boss will not refer to us as “bodies” and see us as bodies.
  116. Before the pollution can be stopped, the directors must, of course, learn of the pollution. This may never happen, for there is an indigenous corporate phenomenon concerning bad news. Bad news weighs a lot, and as a consequence bad news does not tend to filter upward.
  117. The more one seeks security the less secure one will be. And further: The more security one appears to acquire, the less security one actually possesses.
  118. The ultimate security in the corporate milieu or elsewhere, anywhere, is the self. I say it again. The self is the source of all security, not the boss, not the corporation, not the pension plan, but the self.

What I got out of it

  1. A beautiful look into how Gerry Spence argues, thinks about arguing, and why he argues. Interesting to think that arguing is a “duty” when we witness an injustice, as a way to sharpen our thinking, or as a way of passing on knowledge

Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate by George Lakoff

Summary

  1. Lakoff describes how and why to frame things, mostly in a liberal vs. conservative sense. Frames are automatic, effortless, everyday modes of understanding

Key Takeaways

  1. Frames
    1. Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. As a result, they shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions.
    2. You can’t see or hear frames. They are part of what we cognitive scientists call the “cognitive unconscious”—structures in our brains that we cannot consciously access, but know by their consequences. What we call “common sense” is made up of unconscious, automatic, effortless inferences that follow from our unconscious frames.
    3. Not only does negating a frame activate that frame, but the more it is activated, the stronger it gets. The moral for political discourse is clear: When you argue against someone on the other side using their language and their frames, you are activating their frames, strengthening their frames in those who hear you, and undermining your own views. For progressives, this means avoiding the use of conservative language and the frames that the language activates.
    4. Because language activates frames, new language is required for new frames. Thinking differently requires speaking differently. Reframing is not easy or simple. It is not a matter of finding some magic words. Frames are ideas, not slogans. Reframing is more a matter of accessing what we and like-minded others already believe unconsciously, making it conscious, and repeating it till it enters normal public discourse. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is an ongoing process. It requires repetition and focus and dedication.
    5. Reframing without a system of communication accomplishes nothing. Reframing, as we discuss it in this book, is about honesty and integrity. It is the opposite of spin and manipulation. It is about bringing to consciousness the deepest of our beliefs and our modes of understanding. It is about learning to express what we really believe in a way that will allow those who share our beliefs to understand what they most deeply believe and to act on those beliefs.
    6. Framing is also about understanding those we disagree with most.
    7. Facts matter enormously, but to be meaningful they must be framed in terms of their moral importance. Remember, you can only understand what the frames in your brain allow you to understand. If the facts don’t fit the frames in your brain, the frames in your brain stay and the facts are ignored or challenged or belittled.
    8. This gives us a basic principle of framing: When you are arguing against the other side, do not use their language. Their language picks out a frame—and it won’t be the frame you want.
    9. When you think you just lack words, what you really lack are ideas. Ideas come in the form of frames. When the frames are there, the words come readily. There’s a way you can tell when you lack the right frames. There’s a phenomenon you have probably noticed. A conservative on TV uses two words, like tax relief. And the progressive has to go into a paragraph-long discussion of his own view. The conservative can appeal to an established frame, that taxation is an affliction or burden, which allows for the two-word phrase tax relief. But there is no established frame on the other side. You can talk about it, but it takes some doing because there is no established frame, no fixed idea already out there.
    10. The first mistake is believing that framing is a matter of coming up with clever slogans, like “death tax” or “partial-birth abortion,” that resonate with a significant segment of the population. Those slogans only work when there has been a long—often decades-long—campaign of framing issues like taxation and abortion conceptually, so that the brains of many people are prepared to accept those phrases.
    11. The second mistake is believing that, if only we could present the facts about a certain reality in some effective way, then people would “wake up“ to that reality, change their personal opinion, and start acting politically to change society. “Why can’t people wake up?” is the complaint—as if people are “asleep” and just have to be aroused to see and comprehend the world around them. But the reality is that certain ideas have to be ingrained in us—developed over time consistently and precisely enough to create an accurate frame for our understanding.
    12. Spin is the manipulative use of a frame. Spin is used when something embarrassing has happened or has been said, and it’s an attempt to put an innocent frame on it—that is, to make the embarrassing occurrence sound normal or good.
    13. Propaganda is another manipulative use of framing. Propaganda is an attempt to get the public to adopt a frame that is not true and is known not to be true, for the purpose of gaining or maintaining political control.
    14. If you remember nothing else about framing, remember this: Once your frame is accepted into the discourse, everything you say is just common sense. Why? Because that’s what common sense is: reasoning within a commonplace, accepted frame.
    15. A useful thing to do is to use rhetorical questions: Wouldn’t it be better if . . . ? Such a question should be chosen to presuppose your frame. Examples: Wouldn’t it be better if we could fix the potholes in the roads and the bridges that are crumbling? Or, wouldn’t we all be better off if everybody with diseases and illnesses could be treated so that diseases and illnesses wouldn’t spread? Or, wouldn’t it be better if all kids were ready for school when they went to kindergarten?
    16. Always start with values, preferably values all Americans share such as security, prosperity, opportunity, freedom, and so on. Pick the values most relevant to the frame you want to shift to. Try to win the argument at the values level.
    17. Those are a lot of guidelines. But there are only four really important ones: Show respect, Respond by reframing, Think and talk at the level of values, Say what you believe
  2. Other
    1. In fact, about 98 percent of what our brains are doing is below the level of consciousness. As a result, we may not know all, or even most, of what in our brains determines our deepest moral, social, and political beliefs. And yet we act on the basis of those largely unconscious beliefs.
    2. People do not necessarily vote in their self-interest. They vote their identity. They vote their values. They vote for who they identify with. This is very important to understand. The goal is to activate your model in the people in the “middle.” The people who are in the middle have both models, used regularly in different parts of their lives. What you want to do is to get them to use your model for politics—to activate your worldview and moral system in their political decisions. You do that by talking to people using frames based on your worldview.
    3. Orwellian language points to weakness—Orwellian weakness. When you hear Orwellian language, note where it is, because it is a guide to where they are vulnerable. They do not use it everywhere. It is very important to notice this and use their weakness to your advantage.
    4. Levy addressed the question of why there were so many suicides in Tahiti, and discovered that Tahitians did not have a concept of grief. They felt grief. They experienced it. But they did not have a concept for it or a name for it. They did not see it as a normal emotion. There were no rituals around grief. No grief counseling, nothing like it. They lacked a concept they needed—and wound up committing suicide all too often.
    5. The truth alone will not set you free. Just speaking truth to power doesn’t work. You need to frame the truths effectively from your perspective.
    6. Accordingly, the frame-inherent world, structured by our framed actions, reinforces those frames and recreates those frames in others as they are born, grow, and mature in such a world. This phenomenon is called reflexivity. The world reflects our understandings through our actions, and our understandings reflect the world shaped by the frame-informed actions of ourselves and others. To function effectively in the world it helps to be aware of reflexivity. It helps to be aware of what frames have shaped and are still shaping reality if you are going to intervene to make the world a better place.
    7. Studying cognitive linguistics has its uses. Every language in the world has in its grammar a way to express direct causation. No language in the world has in its grammar a way to express systemic causation.
    8. Systemic causation has a structure—four possible elements that can exist alone or in combination.
      1. A network of direct causes.
      2. Feedback loops.
      3. Multiple causes.
      4. Probabilistic causation.
    9. Empathy and sympathy both involve the capacity to know what others are feeling. But unlike empathy, sympathy involves distancing, overriding personal emotional feeling. Someone who is sympathetic may well act to relieve the pain of others but not feel the pain themselves. The word “compassion” can be used for either empathy or sympathy, depending on who is using the word.
    10. Colin Powell had always argued that no troops should be committed without specific objectives, a clear and achievable definition of victory, and a clear exit strategy, and that open-ended commitments should not be used.
    11. Tell a story. Find stories where your frame is built into the story. Build up a stock of effective stories.

What I got out of it

  1. Didn’t realize it was a political book, but some of the core ideas about how and why to effectively frame things was helpful