Thursday, February 15, 2007

Winning converts, winning arguments, and "fishers of men"


Shortly after my move to Minnesota, and in early 1998, after some time promoting my first book, I was quite active with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota. A strategic debate came up, about winning “converts” as opposed to winning “arguments.” Here is a link for one of my pieces.

You hear the same dichotomy in churches. Jesus wanted his followers to go out and recruit people. He talked about “fishers of men”, and we can debate whether that refers to casting a net, or to snaring someone on a hook with bait. An interesting parallel comes with Mormon missionaries: young men are expected to go out for two years at their own expense and proselytize their faith – win “converts.”

You hear discussions in mental health circles about the relative effectiveness of interacting with "people as people" (associated with extroversion) and "with ideas" (associated with introverts). Many more people like to manipulate others for social position and power than work with the ideas and content, but content-oriented people (and artists) are very adamant about left alone to develop their work. (Look at a review of Laney's "The Introvert Advantage," here (Jan. 22).

I spent thirty plus years in information technology as an individual contributor. I was responsible for making content operational and reliable in a production environment. I made no claims to “power.” But after a forced buyout and retirement, I found out what much of the real job market is like, especially for baby boomer "retirees". A lot of people “recruit converts” for a living. I have a background in life insurance and annuities, so a logical expectation is for me to go out and “sell” it. “We give you the words,” one recruiter said. It's easier to hire people on commission, of course, because you don't have to budget a fixed salary.

A lot of people make a living my schmoozing and manipulating others. At the extreme, it’s just hucksterism. Or it can be management and leadership. I won’t pass categorical judgment. For myself, I can only sell something that I had something to do with developing.

One thing about the blogs, websites and databases is to accumulate a mass political and social arguments, and a mass of factual histories (with bibliographic references), organized in a way that visitors can see how all the pieces fit. In a way, it’s an expansion of a political book series from Michigan called “Opposing Viewpoints.” It’s important for everyone to be able to see all the sides to an issue rather than succumb to the agenda of a particular salesman. However, a marketing person could be credible when he shows leadership in his own life and can constructively solve other people’s problems and meet their needs in his own personal life.

You run into this kind of problem in the school systems, too. With more mature students who know that it is in their self-interest to do their academic work, there is no real need to manipulate them. Yet educational philosophy is built around the idea of “manipulating” less mature minds so that they learn and find learning rewarding. Less mature students, especially, need confidence in their teachers as role models and as people, regardless of what the content is. Likewise, in business, families often feel that they need confidence in agents or people who service them as “people.” That is a problem for me, having spent 30 years living in urban ghettos, somewhat distant from mainstream concerns over family and child rearing, and not having proving myself up to that kind of task in my own life even as the tables turn in this post 9/11 world, One problem, becoming apparent as the global community becomes "reconciled" (as Clive Barker described it in his novel Imajica -- review here -- look on March 28) is that one has to “compete” as a “man” and prevail in order to provide leadership for others. I am very much a prodigal.

If I do become involved in winning converts to someone else's cause (where that someone else "gives me the words") then that cause helps identify who I am and in some sense circumscribes what I may do with my life later.

So, we need to categorize “the Truth”, too.

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