Cabbages & Kings
"The day you learn how to handle people will be a lucrative one for you," promised lecturer Gordon MacKinnon with a big smile. MacKinnon had good reason for smiling; New England Mutual Hall was filled for his Demonstration Meeting of the Dale Carnagic Course in Human Relations. Advance newspaper ads had stressed the course's ability to bestow courage, self-confidence, and U. S. currency on those who took it, and three hundred people had felt insecure, inferior, and poor enough to trek into Boston for last Thursday's evening meeting.
The audience had been waiting thirty minutes for this spiel but there was only one sign of restlessness. Under a placard reading "How to STOP Worrying," a tall youth chewed hungrily on both his hands. MacKinnon's talk consisted of "humorous" little stories to warm up the crowd and illustrate the "handling" of people. One of these anecdotes concerned some preposterous lie about food packaging that MacKinnon had told his first grocery store customer; another showed how a father had convinced his on to kill a beloved net turtle by applying one of the rules taught by the course. Audience response was a hollow nervous titter.
The lecturer concluded his talk by pointing to five dilapidated chairs lined up on the stage. According to MacKinnon four of these chairs were occupied by Demosthenes. Milton, Beethoven, and Franklin Roosevelt--the fifth could be ours if we would give in and take the $96 course. Then he introduced thirteen recent Dale Carnagie Graduates, fit company for the great men of history. Each grad delivered a two minute speech on what the course had done for him.
It became impossible to tell the various grads apart after listening to the first four or five. They all beamed with the same grin of self-confidence, they all wore identical white carnations, and they all spoke in the same slow mechanical style. Their remarks emphasized the same theme: "Dale-Carnegie's Course taught me ENTHUSIASM and how to speak without thought," said one. "The Course put money in my pocket, and I'm sure that's what we all really want," asserted another. "I met people with winning smiles and a real helpful spirit." "Now I always meet the TOP men," etc. All the speakers used a basic technique of Carnagie's manipulationship--the description of Great Results without mention of how or at what price they achieved them.
Two of the more self-confident grads even delivered extra talks on an impromptu basis. The first dwelt on the accomplishments of an 86 year old acquaintance who a) hasn't paid his club dues in 36 years, b) has to be "dragged" to religious meetings, c) still receives plenty of promiscuous offers, d) spends his time spooning in front of his TV set, and e) always smiles. This was why "life begins at forty" according to our speaker.
At this point the Carnagie-men suddenly changed their technique from sacharine to shock. Smiling grads went through the audience to take down names for a lottery on door prizes. When the names were collected, we learned that the prizes consisted of Carnagie's various books and that each winner would have to come up in front of the whole crowd. "Are your knees shaking?" asked the announcer suggestively. "Is your heart pounding? Palms sweating? Are butterflies beating around in your stomache?" "God" a man next to me said," I don't need a free book, I need a drink!"
This tactic, bullying people who admittedly felt timid and inferior, backfired quickly. Several men actually left the hall, and when the announcer asked for enrollments in the course only a scattering of hands went up. But the Carnagie-men refused to give up. They filed out the door, all the lights went out, and a movie called By Jupiter flashed on a screen in front of us. This film illustrated the technique of manipulationship with a frankness that the speakers had not shown.
The hero of By Jupiter is an average white collar worker by the name of Poindexter. Physically unimpressive and psychologically timorous, Poindexter is assaulted by teenagers, bullied by newsboys, insulted by waitresses, and refused a loan by snooty bank clerks. But suddenly the god Jupiter comes down and offers Poindexter some advice. "Be wisely selfish," says Jupiter, "catch your flies with sugar." So Poindexter suppresses his natural reactions to various people, fixes a blank grin of confidence on his face, and composes adulatory remarks to smother everyone with. He gets what he wants from others by feigning interest in their problems and remaining inwardly aloof and calculating. The film teaches that in this way we can all "cash in at the bank of human relations and win sound dividends."