Vain men and women, who live upon the praises, applause and approval of others, like to think of themselves as being admired, courted, favored, appreciated, and even flattered. Such a person once said to us: “I cannot live without flattery. I want people to say nice things about me. I do not care whether they mean them or not, if only they will say them to my face.” To interest such a person in himself is really a work of supererogation—because he thinks of nothing else, and usually can talk of nothing else. All you have to do to arouse his interest is to show him the connection between his vanity and the proposition you have to offer, and then heartily join in the applause.
In a similar way, the doting mother thinks about herself in connection with her children. Make the devoted husband and father think about himself in connection with his family. Make the social, friendly person think about himself in connection with his acquaintances and friends. Make the detail worker think of himself in connection with little intimate details. Make the generalist think of himself in connection with large movements.
The interest a person may feel is not always concerned with that which is immediately and directly connected with himself. Just at present, for example, we are all more or less interested in the war in Europe. We read about it. We discuss and argue about it. We follow its moves of armies and diplomacies. In one sense this interest is impersonal. Yet, psychologically, our interest depends entirely upon our own connection with the results. Through our sympathies we place ourselves either with “the oppressed Belgian people whose homes have been ravished” or with “the great German nation fighting for its existence against an iron ring of enemies who enviously conspired for her downfall.” We are also interested in the war because it affects our business, our finances, our means of travel and communication, and a thousand and one other matters which directly concern us. Even a casual observer might be interested in a war between two colonies of ants; but unless the outcome in some way directly concerned him, his interest would be purely intellectual and by no means strong enough to use as a basis for successful persuasion.
Some may object that in treating the subject of interest, we have made human beings appear far more selfish and self-seeking than they really are. Such is not our intention. The most unselfish acts of heroism that can be performed result from intense personal interest aroused through sympathy, generosity, duty, patriotism, or love. When a person capable of one of these heroic acts thinks of himself, he is likely to think of himself as sympathizing with those who suffer, as being generous to those who are in need, as performing his duty without fear of consequences, as loving his native land, or as pouring out his very soul for the benefit of those who are dear to him.