It will readily be seen that no study of psychology in the ordinary acceptance of the term can give us any clue to these variations in individuals. Yet successful persuasion depends upon as accurate a knowledge as possible of these very differences among people. The parsimonious salesman who takes it for granted that every one’s motives are the same as his own, and, therefore, talks to every prospect about the money-saving possibilities of his commodity, will most certainly fail in trying to persuade those to purchase who care nothing about saving a few cents, but do care a great deal about the quality, style, and beauty of the commodity. The attorney who makes his plea to the court on the basis of technical justice in every case he pleads will lose many cases in those courts where the presiding judge is rather impatient with technical justice and may, perhaps, decide cases upon their merits or according to his own sympathies. We once knew a learned, able, and conscientious judge who, despite his many years’ training in the law, was almost certain to decide a case in favor of the litigant who made the strongest appeal to his sympathies. The parent who knows nothing but the persuasive power of corporal punishment, will have little success in disciplining a child blessed with unusual fighting spirit, independence, and tenacity, just as the parent who appeals only to a love of approval will fail in handling a child who does not care what people think about him.
We once knew a woman who lived near us who had two little boys. One of them was sensitive, timid, affectionate, and idealistic. Being a healthy, active boy, there was a great deal of mischief in him, and in her attempts to discipline him the mother scolded, berated, and often cuffed and slapped him, occasionally administering a whipping. It was plain that the scoldings and whippings only made the boy more shy, more self-conscious, and less confident of himself, which, in one sense, was the worst thing that could have happened to him. The qualities he most needed were courage and self-confidence. With his ideals, his responsiveness, and his affection, he could have been handled easily and would have developed a splendid intellect and a fine character normally and healthfully.
The other boy, although somewhat younger, was more than a match for his older brother. He was practical, matter-of-fact, shrewd, courageous, too self-confident if anything, always ready for a fight, aggressive and wilful. The mother did not scold or whip this boy for the simple reason that she could not. He was too active and too willing to fight. Being thus deprived of the only means of discipline which seemed to her to be effective, she permitted the boy principally to have his own way, her only appeals being to his reason. Unfortunately, this is the very type of boy who will not listen to reason. In this case, as in the first, she would have been successful if she had appealed to the boy’s affections, for he had a very strong love nature and would have responded instantly.