Ben Franklin, David, Goliath, Gladwell, McRaney (A psychosocial smorgasborg)

I was listening to the darn good You Are Not So Smart podcast and host David McRaney produced an episode that was an excerpt from his book, You Are Now Less Dumb.  The selection he chose to read was about the Benjamin Franklin Effect, the idea that someone who does a favor for someone else, will like them more than they did before.  That’s not receiving a favor that brings the affection, but doing one.

For examples, a stranger at Starbucks asks me to watch her laptop while she’s in the bathroom and I do that, I’ll be more likely to do another kind thing for her.  If I’m the type of person that watches a laptop, then chances are good that I’ll also be the type of person that will hold the door for that person or buy them a coffee.

Another example is that if you don’t like someone but they ask to borrow a book you own and then you lend it to them, you’ll likely feel more favorable to them than if they did something nice for you.  Which is exactly what happened to Franklin, who borrowed a book from a rival to improve the terms they were on.

Now how can that work, that you do something for someone else and then want to do more?  It turns out that when we take these sorts of actions our brain wants to reconcile what we’ve done right away.  If we think we don’t like someone but we do something nice for them, then one of those things must change.   The problem with our brains, is that they know what our bodies have done.  Those lumpy mental masses know we took an action of kindness or generosity and that those actions can’t be undone, but our thoughts can.  So we change them.

All this theory has nothing to do with Malcolm Gladwell, but the man behind it does.

In Gladwell’s most recent book, David and Goliath, he writes about people or groups who used their weaknesses as strengths.  A youth basketball team that can’t shoot, so they press to get the ball close to the basket.  A dyslexic who goes on to form a huge company.  A shepherd boy who is a stone sharpshooter that kills a half-blind giant.

McRaney writes about how Franklin also dealt with this.

Benjamin Franklin knew how to deal with haters.

Born in 1706 as the eighth of seventeen children to a Massachusetts soap and candlestick maker, the chances Benjamin would go on to become a gentleman, scholar, scientist, statesman, musician, author, publisher, and all-around general badass were astronomically low, yet he did just that and more because he was a master of the game of personal politics.

As  1 of 17 kids, little Ben had to learn to talk his way into and out of situations.

McRaney continues, “All else denied, the analytical mind will pick apart behavior, and Franklin became adroit at human relations.  From an early age, he was a talker and a schemer, a man capable of guile, cunning, and persuasive charm.”

All of Franklin’s mental capacity was funneled into a mere two years of school, which was all his parents could afford.  After that, Franklin went to work with his broth James, a printer in Boston.  There, Benjamin was able to continue learning by reading books and pamphlets.

Gladwell might key in on McRaney’s wording, all else denied.  Franklin had the mental energies for school, just no school.  That means he focused on other areas, like human relations.  Franklin succeed not in spite of his circumstances, but because of them.  If Franklin had been one of only a handful of kids, maybe he wouldn’t have developed such strong social skills. He must have been a talker, a middle child of the order Tom Sawyer.  Franklin must have negotiated for dinner roles and stroked egos at home.  He must have balanced how to deal with siblings and then later how to deal with senators.


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