How can you turn an enemy into a friend? How can you cause (or encourage) someone to like you?
Many of today’s therapists would recommend an open, honest and frank discussion of your differences, sprinkled with heartfelt expressions of how you really, really feel.
They advise you to get it out in the open, to clear the air. Then you will presumably discover how a minor misunderstanding caused the two of you to despise each other.
Therapists of a more cognitive bent would follow the example set by Benjamin Franklin.
Maria Popova of Brain Pickings sets the scene:
When Franklin ran for his second term as a clerk, a peer whose name he never mentions in his autobiography delivered a long election speech censuring Franklin and tarnishing his reputation. Although Franklin won, he was furious with his opponent and, observing that this was “a gentleman of fortune and education” who might one day come to hold great power in government, rather concerned about future frictions with him.
Need I mention that some people would deal with this problem by fighting back, by returning slander for slander, by attacking the man’s reputation in order to diminish him.
Franklin believed that revenge was a bad idea. He knew that he might have to work with the man, so he tried to win him over.
David McRaney describes how our Founding Father handled the situation:
Franklin set out to turn his hater into a fan, but he wanted to do it without “paying any servile respect to him.” Franklin’s reputation as a book collector and library founder gave him a standing as a man of discerning literary tastes, so Franklin sent a letter to the hater asking if he could borrow a specific selection from his library, one that was a “very scarce and curious book.” The rival, flattered, sent it right away. Franklin sent it back a week later with a thank-you note. Mission accomplished. The next time the legislature met, the man approached Franklin and spoke to him in person for the first time. Franklin said the man “ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.”
Note well, Franklin did not express his anger. He did not confront the man. He did not sit down to have a conversation with him. He followed a venerable old rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
We can provide a fuller analysis of the transaction.
First, Franklin reached out to the other man. He did not offer a gift; he did not challenge the man to a duel.
When someone trashes you, the last thing he expects is that you reach out to him. And yet, Franklin knew that he could not do so from a servile position. He could not act as though he was confirming the other man’s ill opinion of him.
Also, reaching out presupposes that the man did not really mean what he was saying. It suggests that Franklin wanted to take it as “politics.”
He did not know from the first whether the man really meant what he said, but he was willing to assume the best.
Second, Franklin asked for a favor, one that would cost the other man nothing.
When someone asks you for a favor that will cost you nothing, you are naturally inclined to grant it.
Franklin had found a way to test whether the other man’s enmity was for real or for show.
When the man agreed to do the favor, Franklin accepted it. A week later he returned the book with a thank-you note.
The transaction completed, both men had taken the opportunity to behave as honorable gentlemen.
Popova and McRaney explain that the story shows that if you want someone to like you, you should find a way to induce him to act as though he does. We like people we are kind to. We tend to like people more the more we act well toward them.
As per my analysis, this also involves reaching out to the other person and giving him the opportunity to reciprocate. It places the two of you in a neutral transaction that does not address contentious issues. It does not involve challenging him to justify his poor opinion of you.
It’s not the wish, as King Henry IV told his son, that is father to the thought, or even the deed, but the deed is father to the sentiment.
From here we can enter some forbidden territory, unexplored by Franklin, McRaney or Popova.
Let’s imagine a couple of young people who are out on a date. Let’s imagine that she wants him to like her more than he does. Should she allow him to make kind and courteous gestures toward her or should she let him know that all such gestures will be unwelcome? If he learns that his wish to hold the door for her or to help her with her coat or to pay the bill are signs of misogyny, will this make him like her more or make him feel more like a misogynist?