Posts

Our Hypocritical Selves

Most mornings I eat breakfast and watch a little news before I head out the door for work. I typically flip between MSNBC and Fox so I can get both ends of the political and cultural spectrum. It’s amazing how the very same story can be interpreted so differently. And make no mistake about it, most of the “news” is actually interpretation because a few facts are shared then “pundits” spend most of the time giving their opinions. As I watch and listen I can’t help but think about our hypocritical selves. Saying we – me, you and everyone else – are hypocritical to some degree might sound offensive but please stick with me.

We like to believe we’re rational creatures who occasionally act irrationally but that’s the exact opposite of reality. Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and best-selling author and behavioral economist Dan Ariely would both vigorously contend human beings are irrational creatures who occasionally act rational. Their assertions are back up by scientific research in their books Thinking, Fast and Slow andPredictably Irrational.

Human hypocrisy is seen best in the media and politics. Below are examples.

  • Fox constantly bashed Obama for playing so much golf during his time in office but has no trouble defending Trump consistently going to his Mar-a-Largo resort to play golf.
  • When Bill Clinton said “It’s the economy, stupid,” during his 1992 presidential campaign democrats loved it and he won. When conservatives point to how great the economy is doing now the other side says, “Yea, but…” and will try to convince you despite the lowest unemployment in 50 years things are not as good as they seem.
  • Immigration, now here’s a doozy. When Bill Clinton was for strong borders and enforcing our laws and the democrats cheered. Today Trump is vilified by that same group for trying to enforce the boarders and laws that have been in place for decades.
  • Recently Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted a passage from the Bible to defend the administration’s current immigration stance and the separation of children from parents who are illegal. If that had been said by Eric Holder I’m sure conservatives would be pointing to verses about the need to take in and care for strangers as Jesus commanded.

Do you see what I mean? Every four or eight years each side flips the script. I’m politically agnostic because I’ve come to the point in life where I see power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I just don’t believe most politicians truly have our best interests at heart.

Why are we hypocritical so often? Here are a few things play into our hypocrisy:

  • Confirmation bias. Most people look for evidence to confirm what they believe, not to disbelieve. It’s not easy to look yourself in the mirror and acknowledge long held beliefs might have been wrong because our beliefs are such a large part of our self-identity.
  • The principle of consistency. Human beings feel better about themselves when they act in ways that are consistent with what they’ve said and done in the past. This tendency gets stronger the older we get. It’s easier to keep doing what you’ve always done rather than seeking new approaches to life and issues.
  • Anywhere from 85%-95% of what you think and do in a given day is driven by your subconscious according to science. That means the vast majority of the time we “think” and act without consciously considering what we’re doing, saying or believing. The human brain is programmed to do this and before you realize it you may be many decades into life with thoughts, beliefs and habits that are very hard to change.

We’ll never get rid of the reality that some of our beliefs and actions will conflict with one another. But, we can make a more concerted effort to challenge our beliefs, thinking and actions. It only takes a moment and it will be a moment well spent, especially if you grow in the process.

I’ll end with something I heard Zig Ziglar say in response to someone who said church was full of hypocrites. Zig replied, “Come join us, we’ve got room for one more.” He wasn’t being cynical and he didn’t try to defend himself because he knew he, and all other human beings, have beliefs, conscious and unconscious, that are sometimes hypocritical. It’s part of being human and no of us is immune. The best we can do is stop fighting it, acknowledge the truth, then be open to the possibility that maybe each of us has room to grow.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 135,000 times! Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

Know the Game You’re Playing

Have you ever watched a tennis match where one player won more games but not enough sets and ended up losing the match? How about a football game where one team dominated the stats, held the lead the entire game but then lost on the last play? Here’s one that’s still fresh; a presidential election where one candidate won the popular vote, but not the delegate count, and lost the election?

In each case the losing side, fans or voters often say, “Yeah, but…” then talk about how their team, player or candidate should have won. The reality is it doesn’t matter how much one side dominates if they end up losing according to the rules. Tennis matches are won in sets, football games on the scoreboard and presidential elections are based on the electoral college vote. Know the game you’re playing!

This came to mind recently when people said President Trump was mentally unstable and unfit for office. If you followed the story did you notice he didn’t try to defend his mental stability or fitness? He went to an extreme, calling himself a “very stable genius” and it was a genius persuasive move. You might be wondering why I’d write that considering I’m not a Trump voter (I didn’t vote for Hillary either). I write that because it was brilliant anchoring on Trump’s part.

Anchoring is a term used in psychology that can be described this way; when you put out something like a number, it acts as an anchor and begins to change people’s minds in reference to that point. For example, if I want to sell something for $1000, when I put out that first offer it’s very likely what I end up getting will be closer to $1000 than if I’d not made that original offer.

In the case of Trump, he ignored the mentally unstable comments. If he would have tried to defend his stability around that singular point he would not have been nearly as successful as he was when he referred to himself as a “very stable genius.” Now you might have argued, as many others did, “I don’t think he’s a genius. In fact, I don’t know anyone who thinks he’s a genius!”  But do you see what happened there? The conversation shifted from mentally unstable to debating whether or not he was a genius. Maybe he’s not a genius, only really smart. Or perhaps he’s just smart. Some might still call him dumb but he shifted the entire conversation away from being mentally unstable and unfit to be president!

Do you recall him using this approach during the election? He boasted he knew more than the generals about ISIS. People knew that wasn’t the case but the debate wasn’t that he knew nothing, it was whether or not he knew as much as the generals.

As I write this his mental stability is no longer an issue in the media. Like him or not, Trump won that round. The media moved from mentally unstable to talking about Fire Fury, the expose on him and his administration. Then it was accusations that he slept with a porn star. Those are out now because we’re debating the government shutdown and DACA. By the time you read this there may be something totally new grabbing our attention. What’s going on?

  1. Controlled chaos. Trump loves controversy and notoriety. Being noticed, even if it’s negative, is better than not being noticed. The more that comes out, the less the last thing sticks with us.
  2. The media is paying into his hand. They keep focusing on the next story and all the other controversies become a memory.
  3. Attention spans are shorter than ever. Most people don’t read much so they get their “news” in sound bites from editorial television shows posing as news shows.

Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman was right when he wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow, “Nothing in life is ever as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.” We’re not thinking about much except Trump. His controversies are just a footnote in our thoughts because they keep changing but he remains constantly in the news and on our minds.

You might relate to this from your childhood. When I was growing up there were certain kids who got picked on regularly. Those who got angry, yelled back and made a scene played into the bullies’ hands because the bullies got under their skin. The bullies poked to get a reaction and it worked on most kids. In other words, those being picked on didn’t know the game the bullies were playing.

I don’t write this in support of Trump nor do I write it to discredit him. Whoever is president – democrat or republican – I want that person to succeed for the good of our country. I wrote this post because whether it’s Trump or anyone else you need to know the game that’s being played otherwise you’ll get played.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 110,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

 

Why Don’t We Just Listen for a Change

I was inspired to write this week’s post after watching an enlightening Ted Talk from Theo E.J. Wilson called A Black Man Goes Undercover in the Alt-Right. Don’t worry, this post is not to advocate for any particular position on the political and social spectrum. Rather it’s about the lost art of listening and communicating to understand one another. Theo rightly points out things that prevent us from understanding each other and I have added some of the principles of influence that make it easy to happen:

Online Algorithms

These algorithms begin to filter information to us that we already view and believe, an application of the principle of consistency. It’s no different than the Amazon recommendations that pop up based on prior purchase decisions and sites you’ve viewed. Isn’t it someone freaky how you can start to type in a Google search and the choices that appear almost always contain the exact search you need? It’s as if Google read your mind! This curating of information is constantly going on behind the scenes and may be limiting your worldview.

Media Outlets

We make active choices that narrow our worldview such as only watching Fox News or CNN to the exclusion of all other media outlets. We do so because other large groups of people like us – the principle of consensus – hold the same views. I try to watch MSNBC and Fox in equal amounts because it’s like viewing the world from the North Pole and South Pole. Doing so gives me a better view of the entire planet. Make no mistake, news outlets are run by human beings and have their own bias points of view so be wary.

Our Associations

We tend to hang out with like-minded people. This is a natural phenomenon – the liking principle – because we like people who are similar to us and it’s less taxing mentally to have conversations with people who think like we do.

Social Media

Online “conversations” aren’t really conversations at all. They’ve become forums to espouse views then vehemently defend them. This is one way the principle of consistency can lead us astray. For more on this I will refer you to a post I wrote years ago called Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion.

I’m sure you can think of more things that limit our ability to understand each other. Here are some ideas to perhaps change this. By change I don’t necessarily mean your views have to change but, if you come to understand another person, their point of view, and can maintain respect for them, then isn’t that a good thing?

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was different than you, not to convince them of your point of view, but to simply get to know them and their point of view better? I find it’s best to do this in person, over coffee, a drink, or a meal, where there can be dialog instead of monologue.

Have you ever asked someone what it’s like to be them? Two conversations I’ll never forget happened with a couple of African-Americans; a coworker and my best friend. With my coworker, I asked her on a flight from Nashville to Columbus what it was like to be an African-American working at my company. She talked non-stop the entire flight and I had a new, enlightened point of view.

The other conversation was with my best friend after Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. You cannot imagine the pride he expressed at something he never thought he would see in his lifetime. I don’t believe in either case the conversations would have happened if I had not opened the door with questions. Give a safe place for people to express themselves and you’ll be surprised at what you hear.

What was refreshing in the Ted Talk was hearing Theo acknowledge that many people who held views completely opposite from his were still people just like him. He saw pictures of kids and families. He saw people who enjoyed activities and liked to have fun. They were humans who viewed the world differently. When we lose sight of other people’s humanity we’re in big trouble because we treat them as things to be opposed. We need not look any further than Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to see what people can do to those they consider less than human.

It was also refreshing to hear Theo acknowledge flaws in the thinking of people he more closely aligned himself with. Every side has flaws because they’re made up of human beings, all of whom are flawed.

Someone asked me recently if I thought our country was more divided than ever. My response was no because there was a time we were so divided we plummeted into civil war. We have an opportunity to turn much of our negativity and opposition into something better. In order to do that I believe we need to stop opposing each other, stop shouting each other down and start having real, person to person conversations. Steven Covey encouraged us to “seek first to understand, then be understood.” That would be a great starting place.  I encourage you this week, reach out to someone who is different than you and start a dialogue.

What’s Wrong With America?

We’ve had more than a month to let the presidential election settle in. Trump supporters hail it as a victory over the establishment, a chance to “drain the swamp” and possibly begin a new age in American politics. Meanwhile Hillary supporters believe his election has set us back decades on issues like gender and racial equality and they’ve taken to the streets to make their voices heard.

So what’s wrong with America? Are we a nation full of racists and bigots? I don’t think we’re anymore racist today than we were in 2008 when we elected President Obama. At that time the focus was the historical significance of the first African-American president and people were talking about how far we’d come as a nation on the issue of race. Have we regressed that quickly?

No, I don’t think we’ve taken a step back. We just had not taken as many steps forward as we thought. And for those who did make some strides, it seems as though they didn’t take a look over their shoulder to see how many others were keeping up.

In my persuasion workshops I share the following quote from Samuel Butler, “He who complies against his will is of the same opinion still.” I think that sums up the politically correct (PC) environment. The PC culture hasn’t changed hearts and minds, it merely silenced many people. Fear of loss, fear of being the outcast, and not wanting to go against the tide do nothing to change hearts and minds.

Because of Donald Trump’s brash, often offensive approach, many who were silent now feel comfortable being more vocal about their views on social issues.

So how do we change hearts and minds so we really can be more accepting of those whom we view as different? Facebook certainly won’t do it. For more on that see a post I wrote years ago, Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion.

I believe it starts with relationship. When you break bread with people who are different and have conversations that aren’t intended to prove your point or disprove theirs but instead are focused on learning from another’s viewpoint, I believe you’ll start to change your opinions.

I’ll share two personal examples. The first occurred in the late 1990s when Jane and I met Ahmet, a Turkish waiter on a cruise ship. Of all the places in the world he could have ended up when he left the cruise industry he landed up in Columbus, Ohio to go to college!

Ahmet, a devote Muslim, was open to learning about my faith and I was open to learning about his. Neither of us was ready to change our deeply held religious beliefs but we formed a close friendship that I believe changed each of our views when it comes to people who have a different faith.

My second example was Jerry, someone who was brought in on a project at work. Jerry opened up over dinner to Jane and me about being gay. Our acceptance of him began to change his view of Christians and it changed our views of people in the LBGT community.

I believe each of us has racist tendencies to one degree or another. I wrote about that in I’m Racist, You’re Racist, Everyone is Racist. That fact doesn’t make all of us terrible people because much of it is conditioning from childhood. But that doesn’t mean we have to just accept it. If each of us changes just a little every day and we do it consistently we will make progress as a nation.

So what’s wrong with America? Our biggest problem is we’re a country full of human beings. We’re all flawed and deficient in many ways. It’s okay to admit that but let’s not be okay with it. Each of us can seek positive change.

This week I challenge you to strike up a conversation with someone who is different than you. When you do this just have one motive – to get to know them and understand their point of view. If you do this I hope your experience is similar to those I had with Ahmet and Jerry.

 

Human Contradictions and the Ugly Side of Reciprocity

In 2008 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a republican from Kentucky, said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one term president.” He and the republicans did everything they could to block President Obama’s initiatives.

In 2016 McConnell’s tone was much different when he spoke these words, “It’s time to accept the results of the election, to lower the tone and see what we can do together to make progress for the country.” Mitch seems to have done an about face when it comes to the opposing party working with a president elect.

Remember during the election there were fears of rioting after the November 2 results? Those fears were voiced by Democrats who thought Trump supporters would riot if he lost. It turns out the fear of riots was right…except it’s been Hillary supporters who’ve been rioting.

No doubt each side will rationalize their words and actions. As behavioral economist Dan Ariely likes to point out; we’re not rational beings who occasionally act irrationally but rather, we’re irrational beings who occasionally act rationally. Salespeople have always known this and sum it up this way, “People buy based on emotion and justify with logic.”

Most of us are reactive and our reactions are based on emotion. The sad reality is this; had Republicans been conciliatory when President Obama won and had they honestly tried to work with him they’d have a leg to stand on when asking Democrats to work with Trump. That’s reciprocity.

Instead we’re seeing the ugly side of reciprocity play out in an eye for an eye manner right now. What basis do Republicans have when it comes to expectations of the Democrats working with them? None. And two years from now when the Democrats retake the Senate – mark my words they will because of the natural ebb and flow of politics – our country will be caught in another political quagmire where the highest importance in Washington isn’t getting things done for the good of the country but rather blocking the other side from doing anything to promote their agenda.

All is not lost however and there is a glimmer of hope. The Democrats and their supporters don’t owe anything to Republicans but should they decide to turn the other cheek and try working with Trump then they’ll have a soap box to stand on next time their candidate wins – and surely there will be other Democratic presidents. They’ll be able to appeal to republicans and the nation saying, “Work with us like we worked with you.”

You see, reciprocity can work both ways. When someone does us a good turn it’s easy for us to do something good in return. However, when someone harms another person the natural inclination is to inflict harm back. As a nation we find ourselves in the downward negative side of the cycle but we don’t have to stay there. We can make the conscious choice to look for what we have in common – and there is much – then work together to achieve something good based on those common goals. That may be all it takes to turn the tide and start an upward cycle where favors are traded in a positive way that benefits us all.

Congratulations America, You Just …

Congratulations America, you just elected the most disliked, distrusted person to ever enter the oval office. I knew I was going to write this headline leading up to the election but I honestly thought I’d be writing it about Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump. I, along with just about everyone else, was wrong when it came to predicting the outcome of the election, but the headline is still accurate.

We just witnessed the most contemptuous campaign in modern times and no matter who won history was going to be made. History could have been made by electing the first woman president or it could have been made by electing the first person with zero political experience. My focus however, was that we made history because our nation elected the most disliked, distrusted person ever.

Make no mistake, each side can rationalize why their candidate was the better choice and each can make the case why the other was the potentially the end of our existence. Intellectually honest people will realize virtually everything that was thrown up as a reason to not vote for the other candidate applied to their own candidate as well.

  • It’s hard to dispute that Hillary Clinton has a perceived history of dishonesty and deception. Donald Trump was also viewed as dishonest because of things like Trump University and stiffing workers.
  • Hillary was talked about as a criminal for various reasons although defenders say she was never convicted of anything. Donald was considered a criminal by many people who pointed to all the lawsuits against him. However, his defenders argue those were civil, not criminal, and lawsuits are to be expected in business.
  • Donald was painted a racist for many things he said. Hillary was considered racist having called black teens “super predators” in the 1990s and Bill Clinton was responsible for mass incarceration of blacks.
  • Donald is sexists and perhaps worse. Bill Clinton was every bit as bad and Hillary defended him knowing he’s been unfaithful.

The list could go on and on with each side calling the other hypocritical. Sad truth is both candidates were so flawed many Americans found themselves voting against a candidate rather than for a candidate.

How did either side justify voting for their candidate? Confirmation bias. It’s human nature to look for evidence that confirms what we believe and discount information that is contrary to our beliefs. We all do this to one degree or another.

So how did Donald Trump win? There are lots of theories on that. Detractors say he appealed to the worst part of people. That oversimplifies the problem because there are many good people who voted for Trump just as many good people voted for Hillary.

Trump and Hillary both used scare tactics because politicians and their handlers know fear works. I wrote about this in The Politics of Fear: They’re Trying to Scarcity the Hell Out of You.

Both candidates resorted to manipulation by telling outright lies, half-truths and using lies of omission. Each side will contend the other was worse but no doubt each side used manipulation in an attempt to win over voters.

When it comes to voting people tend to focus on a few issues and those become their rationale for choosing a candidate. To find out more about that line of thinking take a look at Values, Voting and Other Decisions. With so many negatives about each candidate people held their nose and made choices based on the few issues that were most important to themselves.

What is shocking about Trump’s victory are the following:

  1. He was his own worst enemy, saying and doing things much worse than others who’ve seen their political careers end over such things.
  2. The media was against him. With the exception of Fox News all major media was clearly favoring Hillary.
  3. The polls all said he would lose which could have caused people to stay home rather than wasting their time voting.
  4. He didn’t have the backing of his own party, let alone a prior president, the current president, or major celebrities.
  5. His spending was significantly less than Hillary’s.
  6. He had no political experience to help him be seen as an authority.

So how did he overcome such long odds? He was certainly a more passionate, motivating and persuasive candidate. But he also benefitted from timing. If his Entertainment Tonight sex talk video had come out days before the election rather than the FBI disclosure he probably would have lost. I say that because we have short memories and even shorter news cycles. What’s most prevalent in our minds tends to cause us to act in the moment and Trump was darn lucky about the timing of his revelations versus Hillary’s.

I have to admit, when I saw Hillary lost I was happy. But, when I realized Trump won I was sad. I didn’t vote for Trump in the Ohio primary and I didn’t vote for him in the general election. People say my Gary Johnson vote was wasted. Some accuse me of helping Trump while others said I would be helping get Hillary elected. Each line of reasoning is crap! In good conscience I couldn’t vote for either so I didn’t. If our country is to get out of this false choice – the belief that we can only have a republican or democrat become president – it has to start somewhere.

People are saying our nation has never been more divided but that’s not true. Ever hear of The Civil War? I think we were a tad more divided when we went to war against our brethren. We’re not at that point right now and hopefully we never get to that point again.

Here’s what I believe Americans need to focus on. We live in the United States, the U.S. It’s about “US” as in we, me and you, all of us together. We need to begin focusing on what binds us together as opposed to what separates us. We always seem to be able to do that when tragedy strikes (WWI, WWII, 911, etc.) but we don’t have to wait for that to happen. We need to learn the art of comprise and quit depicting candidates as evil and the next Hitler because if we don’t we’re only heading for more division, difficulty and hatred.

If You Always Vote For The Same People…

Next month more than half of Americans will go to the polls to vote on various issues including the President of the United States. The rhetoric has heated up to unprecedented levels so now is a good time to look at a contentious political issue – term limits – through the lens of influence.

When George Washington declined to run for a third term precedence was set with American presidents. Based on Washington’s actions no president ran for a third term until Franklin Roosevelt did so in 1944. The unusual circumstance of a world war in two major theatres was a big reason for FDR’s decision. However, not long afterwards the American people passed the 22 Amendment limiting the president to a maximum of two terms in office.

For some odd reason Americans have not pushed for term limits for congressman and senators. A few states enacted laws to limit the terms of their particular representatives in Washington in an effort to move away from “career politicians.” Unfortunately the Supreme Court overturned those laws saying states could not limit the term of national offices.

Like just about anything in life there are positives and negatives to each side of the argument when it comes to term limits. What should concern citizens is whether or not the best people get elected and whether or not we’re getting fresh political ideas simply because of how voters make decisions.

I remember my pastor saying, “People will remain the same until the pain of staying the same is greater than the perceived pain that comes with change.” That’s akin to, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Americans saw voter revolts in 1994 when republicans swept into power in the house and senate and again in 2010 because of our economic woes. Both times there was so much dissatisfaction with the status quo that people kicked out many incumbents.

My question is; why do we have to wait for things to get so bad before we act? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” sounds good until you consider Steve Jobs and his iPhone. We didn’t need the iPhone because nothing was broken but we’re better off for it. Perhaps we could have the same fresh ideas and change in Washington if we routinely had new people in office.

Politicians are famous for saying things like, “We have term limits because voters can always vote someone out of office if they want to,” and, “Why do we need to restrict voter freedom?” Of course both arguments could be used against term limits for the president and yet as a country we thought it was good to limit the terms for the highest office in the land. I suspect career politicians are thinking first and foremost about staying in power, not the good of the country.

But I digress and you’re wondering how influence ties into this. It will come as no surprise to readers when I state the obvious; nearly every sitting politician wins re-election the vast majority of the time. In fact, it’s staggering how often they win! Take a look at the charts below showing reelection rates for U.S. congressman and senators from the Center for Responsive Politics.

houseoreps

senate

Are incumbents winning so often because they’re the best candidates? Hardly. It’s simply a function the principle of liking due to familiarity. People go to the polls and tend to vote for the person they’re most familiar with and the farther you go down in terms of elected offices the worse it is because quite often people vote for the incumbent simply because they know nothing about the other person running. When you’ve seen or heard about your congressman for the past four years or your senator for the last six years that’s a lot of familiarity for a challenger to overcome.

On this subject, in his book Influence Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini wrote, “Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.” And it’s not just how often we hear a name it’s how much we see the face. Sitting politicians are routinely seen in the news and that helps unless their face is connected to a scandal. I can tell you from firsthand experience that I get much better response to my emails when I include my picture at the bottom of the email because familiarity helps.

While there many other things that come into play during an election we can’t underestimate the importance of simply being more familiar with one candidate vs. another. It’s the way we’re wired.

To be sure we – the typical American voter – are partly to blame because we’re notoriously disengaged when it comes to knowing the candidates, their positions, and understanding the issues. If anyone didn’t need term limits it would be presidents because I’d venture to guess we know presidential candidates better and understand the presidential issues more because of how much they’re in the media vs. lower offices and more localized issues.

In a sense terms limits save us from how our decision-making sometimes works against our best self-interests. My boss likes to say, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” In other words, how can we expect anything different from Washington when we keep electing the same people for the most part? Yes, we can make a concerted effort to become more informed voters but with less than 60% of people of voting age voting in every presidential election since 1968 do we really think that will happen? I certainly don’t. Sometimes we need laws to protect ourselves from ourselves and term limits might be one such law.

“Fear has never created a single job or fed a single family.”

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada weighed in on our Presidential election when he recently addressed the United Nations. He told world leaders, “Fear has never created a single job or fed a single family.”

His quote sounds good, very statesman-like, but unfortunately it’s completely incorrect. If you pause for just a moment and consider what fear does you’d have to conclude it creates a tremendous number of jobs. Consider the following:

  • The military – It exists because of the threat of war.
  • Police – They exist to serve and protect. This arises because of fear and people who break the law.
  • Insurance – It gives peace of mind because it reduces the anxiety that comes with the fear of loss (home destroyed, car accident, theft, etc.).

I’ve spent my adult life in the insurance industry and I tell people we’re a noble industry because we do two things:

  1. We help people. When people have a loss they’re thankful when they have the right insurance to help them get back on their feet.
  2. We help the economy. When an insurance company guarantees payment in the event your home or auto is destroyed banks lend more freely. That means more homes and autos are sold which means more people are employed as each are made.

Trudeau’s statement that fear doesn’t create jobs is ludicrous. Here are just a few facts from 2015 on the U.S. insurance industry from the Insurance Information Institute:

  • People spent more than $1.2 trillion on insurance products.
  • There were 5,296 insurance companies.
  • The industry employed 2.5 million people.

In much the same way that marketing professionals want you to buy their product, Mr. Trudeau wants people to buy into the notion that Donald Trump is peddling fear in an effort to win the election. He is, but so is Hillary Clinton. As I wrote this summer in The Politics of Fear: They’re Trying to Scarcity the Hell Out of You, using fear to win votes is a very old strategy and is used equally on both sides of the aisle.

Whenever someone is using fear they’re tapping into the principle of scarcity. First know this; fear has served mankind well because it’s a survival instinct. From Robert Cialdini’s book Influence Science and Practice, according to social psychologists Haselton & Nettle, “One prominent theory accounts for the primacy of loss over gain in evolutionary terms. If one has enough to survive, an increase in resources will be helpful but a decrease in those same resources could be fatal. Consequently, it would be adaptive to be especially sensitive to the possibility of loss.”

Second, quite often fear of loss moves us to take actions that ultimately serve us well. If scarcity led to more bad choices than good we’d stop responding to it.

Having shared those two thoughts remember this – there are times when scarcity is legitimate and there are times when it’s manipulative. Manipulators realize the power of this principle and will use it to their advantage.

So the real question becomes; is the fear (scarcity) legitimate? If it is then you should pay heed and take appropriate action. When it’s not legitimate then reframe it as someone’s attempt to manipulate you.

And what about the November election? It’s my personal opinion that both Republicans and Democrats are trying to manipulate all of us. They all tell half-truths, outright lie and manipulate statistics in their favor in an effort to grab power. Each side tells us every election that it’s the most important election ever, that our country and way of life is at stake. It’s all BS!

I started with Mr. Trudeau so I guess I should end with him. Canadians seem to love him. He’s young, good looking and charismatic so he’s gaining notoriety on the world stage. I don’t know a lot about him but I know this, his quote about fear not producing jobs or feeding people is laughable. As you should do with any politician, you would do well to look beyond the veneer and critically think about what he says next time he speaks.

The Politics of Fear: They’re Trying to Scarcity the Hell Out of You

You’ve probably heard people say something like this many times in recently, “I wish candidates would just tell us what they stand for and their plans instead of bashing other candidates.” Those sentiments have probably never been as strong as they are right now with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton going after each other like fighting pit bulls.

Candidates are engaging in is what’s known as “The Politics of Fear.” Many accused Donald Trump of that immediately after his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Some pundits called the speech dark and foreboding. Others said it distorted reality as he invoked images of terrorist attacks and police killings. Trump painted a bleak picture and projected himself as the only answer.

But don’t be fooled because Hillary is engaged in the politics of fear, too. She wants her supporters and undecided voters to be scared as hell of a Trump presidency. Her fear messaging wants you to believe he’s a tyrant and will rule like a dictator. One MSNBC commentator went so far to say, diplomatically, Trump would be like a mushroom cloud (i.e., nuclear) when it comes to international relations. Scary!

If we’re all so sick of the negativity, candidate bashing and fear mongering then why do politicians continue to do it? Because fear moves people more than almost anything else.

The principle of scarcity tells us people are moved to action far more by the fear of loss than they are by the thought of gain. Daniel Kahneman, a Noble Prize winner in the field of economics, studied this phenomenon with the late Amos Tversky. Together they proved people are motivated 2.0-2.5 times more to take action by the thought of losing something as opposed to gaining the same thing. Think of it this way; most people will work a lot harder to not lose $100 they already have versus how hard they’ll work to earn an extra $100.

For as long has humans have been around we have instinctively known this and it has not escaped the notice of politicians either. Perhaps the most famous use of fear mongering was President Lyndon Johnson’s television ad when he ran against Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964. The ad shows a little girl in a field with flowers then suddenly there was a nuclear explosion. The ad ended with a deep voice saying, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” This particular message may not resonate as much today but in the early 1960s there was a real fear of a nuclear confrontation with Russia. The message was clear; nuclear war was a possibility if you voted for Goldwater. Click here to see the iconic commercial.

As the rhetoric ramps up on the march to the November election, don’t expect either candidate to go positive. Governor John Kasich did his best to stay positive in the Republican primaries and it got him nowhere.

As one slings mud, the other will respond. If a candidate doesn’t respond to a negative attack they are seen as weak. Just ask John Kerry about the “swift boat” allegations in 2004.

As much as we say we don’t like it, we will get nothing but doom and gloom combined with personal attacks like we’ve never seen before. But take heart, in all likelihood this will be dull compared to what we’ll experience in 2020 and beyond.

Can We Please Stop the Memes and Labels?

Can we please stop with all the memes and labels? I don’t know about you but I’m tired of all the attempts to be cute, dumb down issues and label people with a silly picture or cynical text. With the political season in the U.S. right now, it seems to be at an all-time high.

There are a lot of complex issues facing our nation and many people want to reduce them to a meme on Facebook or 140 characters on Twitter.

News Flash – Nobody changes their mind or position on an issue when you post a picture of Gene Wilder in his Willy Wonka outfit pointing out some inconsistency in their position. The truth is, we’re all hypocritical to some degree. Our actions may contradict our beliefs sometimes but it happens to all of us because nobody is perfectly consistent all the time and quite often our own beliefs collide.

People also like to use Leonardo DiCaprio’s picture with a glass of champagne in his hand to smugly pointing out how they (the person posting the picture) are smarter or better than a whole class of other people who don’t share their view.

Even worse than all the memes are the labels people use. For example:

  • If you vote for Donald Trump you’re racist.
  • If you vote for Hillary Clinton you have no regard for the law.
  • If you voted for Brexit you’re dumb.
  • If you voted against Brexit you’re not patriotic.
  • If you’re for immigration reform you’re racist.
  • If you’re for immigration you’re a real American.
  • If you think abortion is simply a choice you’re a baby killer.
  • If you think abortion is wrong you hate women and their rights.

The list could go on and on. Have you paused for just a moment to consider these are complicated issues that good people can view very differently because of their life experiences?

I know people who will vote for Donald Trump for one reason – they’re sick of the establishment. They feel he can’t be any worse than the establishment and might just be better. That doesn’t make them racist.

I know people who will vote for Hillary Clinton because they sincerely believe she’s the most qualified person to run for president and it’s time for a woman to be president. That doesn’t mean they’re anti-law.

From what I’ve seen and read, many British people who voted for Brexit (for Britain to leave the European Union) want more say in the affairs that impact their country than the European Union might allow.

Many British people who voted against Brexit because they wanted to remain part of the European Union, did so because they felt it positively impacts Britain’s viability on trade and world affairs.

I know people who want a wall built between Mexico and the U.S. because they see more than 11 million people who came into America illegally, not because they are racist. They simply want to know that everyone goes through the same process and follows the laws of the land.

I’ve known people who’ve had abortions and regretted it. Some have always wondered, “What if?” I also know women who’ve had abortions and felt it was okay because it was their choice and right for them in their particular situation.

There are many good people out there who share different views from you and me. In the absence of knowing whom they might vote for in the presidential election, their stance on abortion, their feelings about immigration or many other issues, you’d probably enjoy their friendship.

And here’s a truth – the society we live in claims to be more concerned about fairness, equality and anti-discrimination and yet we practice discrimination every time we label an entire group of people just because of who they vote for, what they stand for or what they believe. That’s wrong!

I wrote in a post years ago – Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion – and I believe the same rationale could be applied to the memes and labels people try to use to shame people or make them feel stupid. Have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, the people posting all those memes and using labels are actually the ones who aren’t so smart? After all, Einstein did say the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

We would all do well to spend more time focusing on what we have in common versus what makes us different. We’d get along better and get more accomplished.