Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Power of Persuasion

When my kids were growing up we had two little dogs named Harry and Zoe.  They went for their grooming to The Barking Lot--or should I say The Barking Lot came to them.  Although this name has apparently also been chosen for various dog-grooming services across the U.S. and Canada, this particular mobile pet-grooming van, equipped with a tub and all the fixings, was local and would arrive at our door and park outside the house.  The owner, Jimmy, was very good with animals and he had what they call 'the gift of gab', talking as he worked, before, after and during.  He recounted a story that today still stays with me, as an inspiration for those times when you may need to--but are unable to--persuade someone of something.

Jimmy was a busy guy--besides running his own little mobile pet-grooming business he worked with the local SPCA to try to find new owners for the more 'unadoptable' dogs--dogs nobody seemed interested in taking home with them:  older, fatter mutts, handicapped or with an offputting personality. He appeared, once a week, on a local TV channel with one of these desperate-to-be-adopted creatures and gave his sales pitch.  By the following week someone would have usually called in to adopt the animal.

There was one little dog, however, whom nobody seemed to want.  Try as he might, Jimmy couldn't convince anyone to take her.  I don't remember the breed but it was a small, yappy type that wasn't particularly cuddly.  By the third week, not a taker in sight, the director of the TV program called Jimmy into her office.  "You need to start showing another dog," she told him.

Jimmy was devastated.  They keeps dogs in the pound only so long, and if they're not adoptable ...   Animal shelters shelter an animal, they can't become their permanent home.  The little dog's space there was needed for one of the constantly arriving new abandoned, mistreated, rescued or 'donated' animals found or formerly owned.  Jimmy was at his wit's end.  He tried everything he could to find her a home.

They had reached an impasse.  Jimmy wasn't willing to just give up on the poor critter. He looked at the director, noticed her wavy, well-coiffeured, chestnut-colored hair.  It was not a color one saw often on a woman her age when the strands of white begin multiplying exponentially.  He looked back at the dog, then back at the director, and it came to him.

"You know," he said, "you two have exactly the same color hair!!!"

It was true.  The hair on the dog and the hair on top the woman's head were an exact match.  The director stared at the dog.  "You're right," she laughed.

I don't know what Jimmy said to her to convince her that she should be the one to adopt the dog.  Perhaps their personalities matched as well, hers and the dog's, and there was a moment of recognition there.  Perhaps she sympathized with Jimmy's plight and made this magnanimous gesture out of respect for what he was trying to do and in support of the program.  Who knows.  But she ended up agreeing to take the dog.

Jimmy had the dream to one day start a program to train inner-city youth to become dog groomers like himself.  It was a thriving business and there weren't a lot of mobile pet-grooming outfits around, which would give them an advantage.  He tried to get funding for such an enterprise.  I don't know if he was ever able to persuade the dispensers of state grants to support this endeavor, as this was a long, long time ago, but I like to think it eventually happened.

One often hears that phrase, "the power of persuasion".  Marketers sometimes focus on your perceived benefits from buying a certain product.   But what benefit would a yappy dog with a difficult personality be to anyone, regardless of its having the same color hair as you?  I don't think "power" was the element at play here.  Nor simply resonance ("That animal and I share a common feature" , whether hair color or personality). Maybe it was the gift of empathy (as in, not everyone is born with it; when not 'learned', just automatically "having" it, is a gift).

I've seen this before.  Someone resolutely, absolutely feels strongly about a certain thing:  they hate dancing, they don't care for opera, they don't drink tea,  they don't like children, for example.  And then something happens to make them change their mind, that allows them to see a thing from a different perspective, so to speak. "Children in general are noisy, energetic, demanding little humans but THIS one, this one child might prove the exception; all operas suck, just a bunch of fat women screeching on a stage, but this one aria, absolutely transfixes me, gives me goosebumps it's so beautiful; even if I have wooden feet and can't dance if my life depended on it, I would try, even pretend, for my beloved; decaffeinated green tea's supposedly healthier than coffee, maybe I could learn to switch..."--are all examples of little moments that whisper: take another look-see, allow another perspective in, another way to look at a thing.

Maybe the one person who could make that chestnut-haired dog toe the line, so to speak, would have been the director.  I got the impression from Jimmy that it was a success story.  What was it that ultimately did the trick, I wonder--to get her to actually agree to adopt the contentious little dog?  Was it really his "power of persuasion"? Or her sense of humor and empathy that finally sealed the deal? 

Some things are harder to persuade people about, even coming from themselves..  They'd like to do something, but can't (they say).  Quitting smoking or drinking, for example.  Physiological (and behavioral) addictions are harder to overcome, as is, sometimes, irrational thinking.  You acknowledge the benefit of something but are unable, for whatever reason, to do what's necessary to achieve it.  Why does that  phrase "Do what I say, not what I do" pop into my head right now, ha ha (recalling nurses or medical practitioners I have known who tell you to do (or not do) something related to your health, advice which  they themselves totally ignore).

Anyway, back to Jimmy at The Barking Lot and unadoptable animals, and people who are somehow persuaded to suddenly do something totally out of character for them (like the director), which may ultimately change their lives.  Penetrating the perceived rigidity of a mindset, where light can still get through.  This little 'Jimmy story' for me echoes another oft-repeated saying from an old friend from many years ago, that reminds me that even in the most depressing or horrific of circumstances that keeping the mind open to other perceptions/possibilities will be the ticket out of it.  "You never know", he would always smile and say.  (The equivalent, to me, of "Never give up.")  You "never know" unless you try.  You never know what you are capable of when you allow yourself to step out of the box of set-in-stone thinking.

I myself would not have taken that dog.  I knew a "difficult" dog  once. Not only difficult but vicious.  Her name was "Princess" and she lived a few blocks from me then.  She would come out of nowhere and chase after and bite at the ankles of passersby, growling and nipping and tearing at their trouser cuffs. I was absolutely terrified of that little dog.  I tried to think of how I might persuade someone, were the situation reversed and Princess was the dog poor Jimmy had to find a home for, how I might convince someone to take her.  I come up with a complete blank.  I wouldn't wish this dog on my worst enemy, as the saying goes. So maybe there's more at play here than persuasion and openness: those sometimes impossible situations for which there is no answer.

In the film "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" there's a scene in traffic where a car passes by of which its occupants, a woman and her dog, resemble one another.  Apparently it's not all that uncommon:

This random memory--the Jimmy-of-The-Barking-Lot story--arrived in my head upon waking this morning--I have no idea where it came from, or why--along with the word "persuasion", compelling me to wonder what it is I might be trying to persuade myself of, ha ha.  Or maybe it's me telling me to hang in there, there is a way out of this or that particular dilemma, I must not give up, because ... "You never know."  It's funny how the words one hears, or believes, can form the basis of an 'outlook', a suggested way of being.  And I find myself repeating that "You never know" expression, by way of encouragement, not only to self but others.  (Perhaps the title of this posting should have been "The Power of Possibility".)

There are four of my canine buddies now at the local SPCA in urgent need of adoption:  Fantôme, Oupsy, Willow and Nutella. (That's Nutella over at the right.) Fantôme has been living at the shelter since January.  Someone tied Willow to a tree and then abandoned him.  He doesn't do well, being confined to a cage, continually trying to get out, sometimes injuring himself.  Oupsy, loveable clutz, always getting tangled in her leash, is the most affectionate creature. She hadn't quite got the hang of ball-gets-thrown-you're-supposed-to-chase-after-it-not-just-stand-there-watching  game, what a goof, but she's positively delightful; I can't imagine why no one's taken her yet.  And poor old Nutella, placed on the "urgent adoption" list now as she's not tolerating "life in a cage" too well lately.  

I know, I know, getting emotionally involved with strange animals can sometimes be a curse.  One can't save them all.  Still ...   they have so much to teach us, they're such great fun sometimes.  Annoying, too but hey, so are humans.  Today they're having a big garage-sale fundraiser at the SPCA where visitors can tour the premises and see what they do there, met the staff (and animals) and perhaps increase their awareness of how hard it is to take care of and try to place these unfortunate animals. 

My jury's still out (about the reincarnation thing) but I wonder, if that were true, what would happen if I "came back" as a dog.  ("Oh Lord, a St. Bernard, I mean really.  I would have preferred being a Husky.  Do you know how much it would cost someone to FEED me?  And with all this hair--summers would be unbearable!")  Assuming one had a choice in such things, ha ha.  I think what, where and who you come back as is supposed to teach you a life lesson you didn't manage to learn the first time around, so maybe that'd be my karma--to be a St. Bernard and have to go save people lost in snowdrifts, to make up for all the times I maybe could have helped someone, and didn't.  Who knows.

"You never know."



Jim Murdoch said...

Like most words ‘persuasion’ is something we thing we understand but really don’t. Oh, we get the gist of it, to change someone’s mind, but the mechanics of it are usually lost on us. It’s like a car: how do you stop a car? You put your foot on the clutch and the brake. Fine, but what happens then? I looked up ‘persuasion’ in Wikipedia and was interested to find six ‘weapons of influence’ but ‘reason’ was not one of them. I would have expected it to be the top of the list. I’ve left myself a note to investigate this topic further – so expect a blog in about six months – because what do we writers do if not try and persuade our readers, to get them to suspend disbelief, to buy into our arguments? Interesting.

Looking down the list again I have to wonder how one sells a dog. This is one of the cases where reasoning with someone might not be the way to go because who has an intellectual relationship with their pet? It’s invariably an emotional bond that develops. That said, when my wife rescued out bird she used reason with me when she wanted to keep him – it was the right thing to do. She appealed to my sense of duty and responsibility. And it worked. After that the bird ‘persuaded’ me by being cute – I’m a sucker for cute.

awyn said...

Hi Jim, thanks for stopping by. In selling a dog/cat/bird, sometimes persuasion is the easy part. People are willing but “my wife is allergic,” “my landlord won’t let me,” “I already have three” so you get the “I would if I could” response ... "but". Like you, I’m a sucker for “cute” -—more so for sad eyes.. I would rescue them all-—if I could. Sad to report, none of the four urgently-in-need-of-adoption doggies featured in the post found homes Saturday after the festivities at the shelter. I'm keeping my fingers crossed... :)