Larry David and Ben Franklin

On the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David has his idea of what constitutes appropriate behavior. For the most part, he lives according to that idea, he obnoxiously shares his views with almost everyone, and he clashes with people who have different views.  

Suppose there's another HBO series called Colonial America. In Season 1, Ben Franklin is a young, local politician, and there's another local politician named Oldenshaw who hates and ignores Ben. (It's similar to the Jerry Seinfeld and Newman dynamic--only these two men don't even say, "Hello, Oldenshaw." "Hello, Ben.") In episode 12, Ben wants to get on the good side of Oldenshaw, so he writes him a note saying he wants to borrow a rare book that Oldenshaw has in his library. Oldenshaw lends him the book, and Ben returns it a week later, along with another note thanking Oldenshaw for the favor. The following day, Ben sees Oldenshaw, and the latter starts talking to Ben as if the two of them are best friends. And during the rest of the show's run, they are in fact close friends. 

Now let's return to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Suppose there's an episode in which Larry's neighbor Tom discovers that Larry's home is five feet over the property line. And he tells Larry to rebuild part of his home so that it doesn't cross the line. Then Larry says, "Rebuild? I'll just pay you for the extra land that my home is using." Tom replies, "I want you to rebuild. Otherwise, I'm gonna file a lawsuit." "There's no point in me rebuilding, when I can just pay for the five feet of land." "I want you to rebuild." "I'll write you a check, Tom. $50,000. That's way more than the land is worth." "No, Larry. Rebuild." “I have an even better idea. I'll let you use the five feet of my home that goes over the line. It's in my dining room. You and your wife can hang out there whenever you want, and I'll leave some lemonade out for you to drink, and maybe I'll slap you in the face a few times." 

Notice how Larry's approach is not like Ben Franklin's. Ben circumvented anything related to issues, sensibility, and  information. Instead he used an extremely indirect approach--one that, in a certain sense, focused on dealing with Oldenshaw the person; unlike Larry, who presented Tom with an argument regarding the matter at hand. 

Suppose there's another HBO series called Andrew Carnegie. In Season 1, Episode 8, Andrew Carnegie and Colonel Piper are partners in a bridge company, and they begin travelling from Pittsburgh to St. Louis in order to collect payment for a bridge. But in Episode 9, as they make their way to St. Louis, Piper says to Carnegie, "I'm feeling really homesick. I'm going back to Pittsburgh." Carnegie needs Piper to stay, since Piper will be a huge asset in their quest to collect the bridge payment. Now, in previous episodes, we learned that Piper is a horse aficionado to the point where it is his obsession. Carnegie uses this to influence Piper. He says, "Before you go back to Pittsburgh, can you do me a favor? I'm planning to buy my sister a few horses as a gift. St. Louis is known for having some of the best horses in the country.  Can you find me a few horses to give to my sister?" Upon hearing this, Piper becomes extremely eager to go to St. Louis, whereas before he had been equally eager to head back to Pittsburgh. 

Carnegie managed to influence Piper, not by presenting a line of reasoning concerning the matter at hand, but by utilizing a completely separate item that has no relation to homesickness or the business. 

Now, imagine the same plot with Larry David in place of Andrew Carnegie. Larry would tell Piper, "Homesick? You're homesick? What are you--out of your mind? We're running a business! We got money to collect! What's so great about Pittsburgh, anyways?" Blah, blah, blah. 

Larry David's approach is vastly different from that of Andrew Carnegie. 

Let's consider another example via a fictional HBO series. This one is about the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. In one episode, President Wilson needs to send someone over to Europe as a peace emissary. Although Wilson's Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan badly wants the position, Wilson instead gives it to his own confidant Edward House. And he instructs House to let Bryan know that he hasn't been chosen for the job. House then tells Bryan, "President Wilson wanted you--but since you're the Secretary of State, he can't have you occupy a much lower position like peace emissary. I mean, what will people think when they see an eminent figure like you on some unofficial mission, and you're in a meeting with people who aren't that well known."

Bryan ended up feeling flattered by Wilson's decision, even though ordinarily, it would have offended and upset him. The news itself didn't change, but House altered its presentation so it would be received well by Bryan.

Now, in this case, House had to address the issue. He couldn't just dodge it and focus on something else, the way Carnegie did with Piper. He had to present the idea, "I was chosen as peace emissary, and you weren't." But he didn't have to merely present it that way. So he found a way that accounted for who Bryan was and the way he perceived things. He managed to both bring up the issue and properly deal with the person, by presenting it from an unorthodox but believable perspective. It was especially believable by Bryan, simply because his ego would readily accept the idea that he was an important man who ranked above a mere peace emissary.

So, what exactly is the point of this essay? Larry David's general day-to-day behavior is vastly different from the aforementioned examples involving Ben Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, and Colonel House. For Larry David, his goal is generally something along the lines of, "I want to state what I think is valid!" In the three examples in this essay, Franklin, Carnegie, and Piper have a goal that can be described as "I want to influence So and So in order to bring about Such and Such result." Typically, these two different goals require significantly different decisions, modes of action, approaches, etc. The Larry David approach can occasionally be effective for laying the groundwork in influencing someone; but by and large, it isn't; it's all dependent on a number of factors that come into play--for instance what you have in common with the person in question. 

It can be said that generally speaking, dealing with people effectively requires dealing with people, as opposed to focusing on issues, sensibility, information, etc. People's views and behavior have a limited direct connection to issues, sensibility, and  information. 

Furthermore, who people are can be quite different from what they represent themselves as or who they're reputed to be. A person might act like he's generally concerned with A and not B, when in fact, the opposite is true. It can be exceedingly easy to influence him when you take him to be the latter, whereas it can be very difficult to influence him when you suppose he is the former. 

All that being said, the question remains--"Should I place my ambitions in influencing people, or should I go about my business another way, for instance, taking a page out of Larry David's book and being very adamant in stating what I think is valid?" It really all depends on the situation, and what you personally value. 

I might go into this topic in greater depth later. 


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