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Wonders of Creation - Persuasion

How often has someone convinced you to say yes to something when you really did not want to?  There are some very clever ploys at large, which can persuade even the toughest individuals to change their minds, but how do the persuaders do it?

The scientific study of social influence began about the time of WW II, when public information, propaganda and persuasion programs began in earnest.  One scientist who has studied the phenomena for about 30 years is Robert Cialdini.  He discovered that there are six basic tendencies that help govern our response to a request ? reciprocation, consistency, social validation, liking, authority and scarcity.

Reciprocation plays on a human desire to give back to someone who first gives to us.  For example, when the Disabled American Veterans mail out requests for money, they usually get an 18% response, but this doubles if they include some free, personalized address labels.  Receiving a gift seems to obligate us to give something in return.  This is why we frequently receive free samples, of gifts, tokens, vouchers and so on with product promotions.

Consistency has to do with an expectation of a person's integrity.  If a person says they will give money, they usually do.  If a person says they will use the table they have reserved in a restaurant, they usually . . .

How often has someone convinced you to say yes to something when you really did not want to?  There are some very clever ploys at large, which can persuade even the toughest individuals to change their minds, but how do the persuaders do it?

The scientific study of social influence began about the time of WW II, when public information, propaganda and persuasion programs began in earnest.  One scientist who has studied the phenomena for about 30 years is Robert Cialdini.  He discovered that there are six basic tendencies that help govern our response to a request ? reciprocation, consistency, social validation, liking, authority and scarcity.

Reciprocation plays on a human desire to give back to someone who first gives to us.  For example, when the Disabled American Veterans mail out requests for money, they usually get an 18% response, but this doubles if they include some free, personalized address labels.  Receiving a gift seems to obligate us to give something in return.  This is why we frequently receive free samples, of gifts, tokens, vouchers and so on with product promotions.

Consistency has to do with an expectation of a person's integrity.  If a person says they will give money, they usually do.  If a person says they will use the table they have reserved in a restaurant, they usually will.  Once a persuader has got a statement of commitment out of someone, they are fairly certain to see the deal go through.

Social validation is about conforming.  If a crowd of people stares into the sky, other people will too, even if there is nothing to see.  The larger the crowd gazing upwards, the more extras it will attract.  If a persuader can convince us that other people do/use/eat something, we feel that we ought to too.

Liking a persuader is the first step to following his sales pitch.  For example Tupperware parties are arranged between friends, where people who like each other gather to consider spending money.  Inevitably the parties are usually a success.  The same goes in politics.  In the National Rifle Association, the very popular Charlton Heston, movie-time heroic figure of Moses and Ben Hur, provides a focus of persuasion because he is greatly liked.

Authority wears a costume ? a black suit and tie.  When a persuader appears on TV he or she uses the popularity card, the likeability card or the authority card.  Doctors appear in serious garb, or the product is related to 'science? to make it more credible, or the product is related visually to some symbol of authority.

Scarcity is an obvious ploy used by persuaders ? hurry while stocks last, collector's edition, rare, custom built ? all words with the hidden label 'scarce? attached.

It is an interesting experiment to apply these six areas of persuasion to Jesus.  Did He deliberately try to play on the feelings and instincts of his followers?  Was He a manipulative persuader?

Firstly reciprocation.  Jesus certainly gave to people.  He healed all their diseases, and set crippled people free.  He raised some from the dead, and fed thousands, but he never used any of these miracles as part of a sales program ? in fact he sadly said on one occasion that the only reason people followed him was for the food.  He did not want people to be motivated by their stomachs and he never used his miracles as a vehicle for his message.

The miracles were for a completely different purpose ? to validate His claims to be God's Son.

People frequently tried to give something to Jesus, but He never exploited this gratitude.  He took was given ? money, food, feet washed with tears, shelter and so on, but he avoided self-elevation, and worked within strict limits of poverty.

Consistency.  Jesus expected people to worship him, and if need be, follow Him to death, but he saw this as their necessary service.  It was expected of them.  He lived consistently - He did what he said He would do, and he expected His followers to be the same, for their own sake.  Yes, Jesus did expect consistency, just as any leader would expect it, but He lived for His father, not for sales.

Social validation is a difficult one, because when the Church was born it was by no means popular to be a Christian.  Despite the relative ease with which Christians avoid trouble in the Western world, there have always been persecutions, tortures, pain and suffering for the name of Christ.  Christians have been starved, beaten, burned, cut into pieces, boiled, drowned and eaten by wild beasts.  Only the lukewarm or imitation Christians tend to make social validation seem likely, but most true Christians, who really make a stand for the Word of God are not in the 'most Popular Job In The World? category.

Liking.  Christians, at their best, are lovable.  It is this wonderful warmth and love which often attracts unsaved sinners into the Church.  Yes, Jesus loved some people who were the most unlovable who ever lived but He did this without strings.  Just as the sun cannot but give of its love and light, Jesus gave freely, expecting nothing in return.

Authority.  When a man raises the dead, they have authority.  But most people missed the authority behind Jesus because he looked so incredibly ordinary.  Peter fell at his feet, Thomas staggered in fear, and soldiers collapsed when Jesus said His Name, but usually he hid his authority behind kindness, compassion and love.

Scarcity.  Jesus never tried to sell the gospel as if it was hard to find, in fact He said the good news was abundantly free to all.  Only a blind fool would turn it down.

What persuaded me to follow Jesus?  Not some manipulative sales pitch.  For me it was the ring of truth.  As a persuader he won my heart through His honesty, His consistency, His authority, His generosity, His love and His sacrifice.

Richard Gunther, Copyright 2005

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