Humilitas–Part Eight

In Chapter Eight, John Dickson sets out to show that in a surprising way,  humility opens the door to influencing people in good ways.  For example, people are more likely to be persuaded and inspired by the humble than by the arrogant.   The syllogism goes like this— 1) fundamental to good leadership is persuasion; 2)  fundamental to persuasion and so to influence is humility;  3) ergo,  humility is a key to good leadership, at least on a Biblical model.   Of course it is true that you also need authority and ability and authenticity and integrity (your life must match your words,  but if your life is a lie, and it becomes apparent you lose your ability to lead)  to be a good leader, but that is not what this chapter is about.

Interestingly enough,  Dickson explains that what persuades people are the three basic things attended to in ancient rhetoric— logos, pathos, and ethos— the intellectual content of a speech, the emotions expressed in a speech, particularly the deeper ones which tend to move people more, and the social and personal dimensions of the speech which lead an audience to believe it.  Of course a crowd can be thoughtless, emotionless, and themselves not have integrity.   Persuasion is not all about the speaker, though it often is mostly about the speaker.   We are intellectual, emotional, and social beings, and a good speech and speaker attends to all three of these things.   One of the things I have noticed again and again is that when a speaker is enthusiastic about something and shows he is emotionally invested and believes in what he says, this in itself is contagious, and more likely to persuade the audience about the subject as well.  And then of course there are some speakers who, while not great intellects,  persuade people because they have the ability to deeply move them through the way they speak, or the beauty of their words, or just the likeableness of their person (their ethos and social connecting skills are good).   One of the things scientific presentations often lack is either pathos or ethos, while they are strong on logos.

Think for a minute about what persuades a person to buy something.  Think about advertising.  Is it long of ‘logos’?  Usually not.   Commericals are usually like reading a detailed report in Consumer’s Digest.  But when an ad rolls out a sleek and shiny red sports car with a beautiful woman or handsome man in it— people line up to buy them.  Why?   It’s not just because we believe ‘you are what you drive’ (i.e. your car expresses how you view yourself and becomes an extension of yourself and your values), its because we have been persuade that there is something beautiful and exciting about that car and we badly want one.   Advertisements mostly appeal to the emotions and appetites, both the crasser ones ( I’m hungry, I want that big juicy burger), but also the deeper ones (that’s beautiful, it would be nice to have one as I need more beauty in my life).   But then there are the Geico ads which use Elmer Fudd to teach us who not to listen to about car insurance!     We do tend to believe people that we both like and trust, and who have exhibited some personal integrity.   But of course our upbringing, education, circle of friends, social class, and the like affect whom we are prepared to listen to at all.   Aristotle in his famous treatise on rhetoric says “We believe fair-minded  (or Dickson suggests the translation good-hearted)  people to a greater extent and more quickly than we do others on all subjects in general and completely so in cases where there is not exact knowledge, but rather is room for doubt.”  (Rhetoric 1.2.4).   The perceived character of the speaker is central to his or her powers of persuasion.

In other words, what we call integrity is key to persuading and leading.  If one does not practice what one preaches, then there is a problem with one’s ethos.  One loses authority in the eyes of the beholder and fails to convince.   Dickson stresses that character is almost always the controlling factor in whether a leader persuades you about something, or not.   Dickson then relates some winsome stories about how hospitable and kind he found Martin Hengel and Richard Bauckham when he interviewed them for a documentary in 2006-07. They showed interested in him, his work, his home, his family, and he found himself apt to listen to and believe them in part because of this good ethos.

Dickson concludes by stressing “humility in the leader does exert a powerful, if intangible influence on those you lead….When people trust us, they tend to believe what we say, and few are considered more trustworthy than those who choose to use their power for the good of others above themselves” (p. 147).

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