Ben Franklin’s method of making friends out of enemies

February 15, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, history, journalism, writers, writing.

The highest compliment that you can give someone is not to make a public knowledge moment of their appearance or of their talents and accomplishments. Even when sincerely given, words of this nature are shallow, cheaply rendered, and temporary. They may also be disputed.

No, the highest compliment comes with words such as, “I need your help,” or “Can you do me a favor?”

What you are saying to that person with these words are any or all of the following:

You are my friend.

— I have confidence in you.

— I am putting myself in your hands.

— I am incurring a debt to you that one day I hope to repay.

— We have a relationship that will last beyond this conversation.

Benjamin Franklin, America’s great founder, philosopher, inventor, and writer, understood this concept innately oh, and he used it to defeat an enemy – not by conquering that person — but by turning that person into a friend. This process has a name, and it’s call the Benjamin Franklin Effect.

Maria Popov wrote about this in a recent post on her website as she was describing the David McRaney book You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself (public library) — a “book about self-delusion, but also a celebration of it,” a fascinating and pleasantly uncomfortable-making look at why “self-delusion is as much a part of the human condition as fingers and toes,” 

And one of the most remarkable of manifestations of this is the Benjamin Franklin Effect, which McRaney examines in the third chapter. The self-delusion in question is that we do nice things to people we like and bad things to those we dislike. But what the psychology behind the effect reveals is quite the opposite, a reverse-engineering of attitudes that takes place as we grow to like people for whom we do nice things and dislike those to whom we are unkind. Source: The Benjamin Franklin Effect: The Surprising Psychology of How to Handle Haters – Brain Pickings

So how did Benjamin Franklin get involved? It happened this way:

As a young man in Pennsylvania, Franklin ran for a seat in the colony legislature. During the election campaign, someone made a speech against him that was virulent and damaging to his reputation. Franklin won the election but was furious about the speech. He was wise enough, however, to recognize that if he was to have a continued public career, the person who made the speech would always be opposed to him unless he did something about it.

What he decided to do was to write to that person and tell him that as a book lover, Franklin wanted to borrow one of the volumes that was in the man’s library. The note Franklin wrote was not obsequious, but it had a complimentary tone about the collection of books the man had gathered. The man sent the book to Franklin almost immediately. After a week, Franklin returned the book with another complimentary note.

The next time the legislature met, the man approached Franklin and spoke very kindly to him. Franklin never named the man but wrote later in his autobiography that he “ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.”

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