The Law of Defensiveness
Lyndon Johnson had a humble background. He grew up in Texas and early on learned about the importance of hard work. In his rise to power, he exhibited all the right characteristics of a competent politician. He was studious, he attended every parliamentary session, he took detailed notes – of even the most boring details that other politicians did not take very seriously. But he was not a bore, he had many interests and was great company.
He managed to form a very tight relationship with a highly influential senator called Richard Russel. By discovering common interests, by listening intently and patiently to the man who had more experience than him, and by asking for his advice, he earned the trust of the senator. Russel was one of the few senators who was still a bachelor, and Johnson senses that he was a lonely man, even though Russel would not admit it. The latter would work tirelessly every day, even on Sundays. Johnson was married, and invited the senator over to his house, where they would share meals together. He invited him to go to baseball games with him.
Over time, the two developed a bond that seemed unbreakable. A feat that few other men could accomplish. And this would prove instrumental in Johnson’s eventual presidential victory.
Johnson had a self-deprecating humor that attracted others to him. People enjoyed being around him because he understood human psychology better than most. He understood that each person has a self-opinion, it may be right or wrong, but they take it very seriously. No one wants to be called stupid or ignorant, no one wants to be accused of being brainwashed or incapable of thinking for themselves, and no one wants to be told that they are bad or malicious.
What we can learn from Johnson is that our ego really serves no purpose in social relationships other than to sabotage other people’s opinion of us. To win an argument against someone who was older and more experienced than you would not win you any social favors, but only cause them to feel insecure about themselves, and defensive. The more you argue with people, the more enemies you will make. Instead, listen to people, even those who you consider inferior to you in some way. Socrates discovered that each professional was ignorant about all other domains but his own. You are no different.
You have many blind spots. By listening to others, and letting them speak, you get to peak into someone else’s mind. And that is far more interesting than hearing yourself speak. After-all, your thoughts are basically the same repetitive pattern of ideas that only gradually change. Other people offer you the chance to get a glimpse into a vast reservoir of knowledge unfamiliar to you, and even if the person you are speaking to has nothing that you want to emulate or are curious about, you can glean insights into what led them down the wrong path.
Have a flexible mind, be willing to learn. Children learn better than adults do because they acknowledge the limitations of their knowledge. They want to become better, so they are willing to listen to people who are older than them (parents, teachers). If you want to live an intelligent life, you must be willing to entertain the viewpoints of people that are wiser than yourself. If your attitude is that you already know everything, and that there is nothing left to learn, you will never improve.
The right attitude is crucial. Don’t take your ideas about the world too seriously. Treat them like building blocks that you play around with. Some of them you will discard, others you will keep. With time, you’ll add new ones. Never be dogmatic or hold on too tightly to anything, because it will limit your potential to grow and understand things more clearly. Take the advice of Nietzsche, when you are reading an author or talking to someone, suspend belief, and immerse yourself completely.
“He who really wants to get to know something new (be it a person, an event, a book) does well to entertain it with all possible love and to avert his eyes quickly from everything in it he finds inimical, repellent, false, indeed to banish it from mind: so that, for example, he allows the author of a book the longest start and then, like one watching a race, desires with beating heart that he may reach his goal. For with this procedure one penetrates to the heart of the new thing, to the point that actually moves it: and precisely this is what is meant by getting to know it. If one has gone this far, reason can afterwards make its reservations; that over-estimation, that temporary suspension of the critical pendulum, was only an artifice for luring forth the soul of the thing.”Friedrich Nietzsche