The Benjamin Franklin Effect

From the HeadHeartHand blog:

We all have haters. Christians have more than most. And faithful pastors maybe have more than anyone.

So how do you handle them?

Well, you can hate them back; but that’s not much help to you or them.

You can ignore them; but I don’t know too many who have succeeded at this.

You can try to make them like you; but that’s often an exercise in humiliating man-pleasing that usually only makes them more man-hating.

Or you can ask them for a favor! This counterintuitive approach is sometimes known as The Benjamin Franklin Effect, because Franklin perfected the art of turning his enemies into friends by asking them for help.

The Benjamin Franklin Effect


For example, Franklin turned one of his haters into a good friend by simply requesting to borrow a rare book.  After this man had lambasted Franklin in a campaign speech, Franklin set out to turn his hater into a fan; but he wanted to do it without “paying any servile respect to him.” Relying on his own reputation as a book lover, Franklin sent a letter to the hater asking if he could borrow a book from his library, one which 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 hater “ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.” Franklin explains:

This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, ‘He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.’ And it shows how much more profitable it is prudently to remove, than to resent, return, and continue inimical [hostile] proceedings.

Or to put it simply: You grow to like people for whom you do nice things, and hate people you harm.

Psychologists and Jay Adams agree!
How does this work? Well, the psychologists explain it thus:

Despite the way things may seem—our actions determine our opinions about people and not the other way around. It is well known in psychology the cart of behavior often gets before the horse of attitude. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience day-to-day…The things you do often create the things you believe.

But it isn’t just the deistical Franklin or secular psychologists who have identified this principle. In The Christian Counselor’s Manual, Jay Adams highlights Ichabod Spencer’s (also known as “The Bunyan of Brooklyn”) observation that “feelings flow from behavior.” This is why, says Adams, that Christian counselors do not focus on feelings because “they know that when they focus on attitudes and actions that the proper feelings will follow” (Prov. 15:30; 17:22).

In Competent to Counsel, after expounding God’s counsel to Cain in Genesis 4:3-7 (If you do right, will your face not be lifted up?), Adams concludes: “Voluntary behavioral alterations will lead to involuntary emotional changes. It is important to understand, therefore, that feelings flow from actions.

While I fear that Adams sometimes goes too far in applying this insight to all emotional suffering, I certainly believe that in many situations we can not only change our hater’s feelings by asking him/her to do something good for us, but that we can also improve our own feelings towards them by doing something good for them, perhaps praying for them.

For example, recently I’ve been very burdened in prayer for someone who did me and my family much wrong some years ago. To be honest, I never ever expected to be praying for him because whenever his name was mentioned in the past, imprecations came to mind more easily than blessings. However, through various providences in his life and mine, I now find myself praying for him several times a day. And, although I can hardly believe it at times, love is beginning to grow

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