Changing Another Person LO20040

John Gunkler (
Mon, 30 Nov 1998 10:08:28 -0600

Replying to LO20006 --

I understand that my viewpoint may not be popular, but I feel compelled to
issue a warning to all of you who believe, like Joe, that ...

>People can try all they want (with me) but unless I decide I will pry
>myself open to them and to
>their influence, nothing will change. My willingness to hear and process
>what is said, will determine, in large part, whether I will decide to

It just isn't true, Joe, I'm afraid. People "get changed" by other people
without permission (and, often, without knowing it) all the time! That's
how terrible things like Nazi Germany and South African apartheid happen!
That's how "mob rule" can take over people at times and result in
individuals doing things that are counter even to their most deeply held
moral values. On a slightly more benign scale, it's fundamentally the
basis of advertising. Did you consciously choose to remember the "hold
the pickles, hold the lettuce" Burger King jingle -- or did it happen to

I learned a lot about human behavior, and how to change it, from
behavioral psychology experiments -- but the strongest lesson is that it
is, indeed, possible for someone to change another person without their
permission. This is exactly why we must have ethical standards about this
kind of thing, and why we must remain vigilant.

Perhaps I'm misreading Joe's remarks, and Richard Scherberger's
endorsement of them, but it seems to me to be very dangerous to hold the
belief that "People can try all they want (with me) but unless I decide I
will pry myself open to them and to their influence, nothing will change."

Perhaps Joe and Richard are only thinking about the context of persuasion
(by talking or writing), in which case I would agree that opening yourself
to the words and ideas is probably going to make it much easier to be
persuaded by them. Certainly one cannot be persuaded by an argument one
does not hear or read, if hearing and reading it are the only ways the
argument is being offered.

But it is quite naive to believe that some unscrupulous person could not,
by the manipulation of reinforcers and reinforcement schedules, change

And I even think it's a bit naive to believe that people are not skillful
enough with words to manipulate them in such ways that those who go so far
as to read them (without "decid[ing] to pry myself open to them") will be
influenced in ways they may not have chosen to be influenced. Politicians
do this all the time, and so do rhetoricians and fiction writers and ad
copy writers and even some people who contribute to this mailing list.

So, just trying to be a friend, I say, "Beware." Examine what other
people are saying and doing and examine very carefully how you are
responding and reacting to their actions. You, ultimately, change your
own behavior but you may do so without consciously choosing to.


"John Gunkler" <>

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