The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
INFLUENCING BY SUGGESTION
Sometimes the feeling that a given way of looking at things is undoubtedly correct prevents the mind from
thinking at all.... In view of the hindrances which certain kinds or degrees of feeling throw into the way of
thinking, it might be inferred that the thinker must suppress the element of feeling in the inner life. No greater
mistake could be made. If the Creator endowed man with the power to think, to feel, and to will, these several
activities of the mind are not designed to be in conflict, and so long as any one of them is not perverted or
allowed to run to excess, it necessarily aids and strengthens the others in their normal functions.
--NATHAN C. SCHAEFFER, Thinking and Learning to Think.
When we weigh, compare, and decide upon the value of any given ideas, we reason; when an idea produces in
us an opinion or an action, without first being subjected to deliberation, we are moved by suggestion.
Man was formerly thought to be a reasoning animal, basing his actions on the conclusions of natural logic. It
was supposed that before forming an opinion or deciding on a course of conduct he weighed at least some of
the reasons for and against the matter, and performed a more or less simple process of reasoning. But modern
research has shown that quite the opposite is true. Most of our opinions and actions are not based upon
conscious reasoning, but are the result of suggestion. In fact, some authorities declare that an act of pure
reasoning is very rare in the average mind. Momentous decisions are made, far-reaching actions are
determined upon, primarily by the force of suggestion.
Notice that word "primarily," for simple thought, and even mature reasoning, often follows a suggestion
accepted in the mind, and the thinker fondly supposes that his conclusion is from first to last based on cold
The Basis of Suggestion
We must think of suggestion both as an effect and as a cause. Considered as an effect, or objectively, there
must be something in the hearer that predisposes him to receive suggestion; considered as a cause, or
subjectively, there must be some methods by which the speaker can move upon that particularly susceptible
attitude of the hearer. How to do this honestly and fairly is our problem--to do it dishonestly and trickily, to
use suggestion to bring about conviction and action without a basis of right and truth and in a bad cause, is to
assume the terrible responsibility that must fall on the champion of error. Jesus scorned not to use suggestion
so that he might move men to their benefit, but every vicious trickster has adopted the same means to reach
base ends. Therefore honest men will examine well into their motives and into the truth of their cause, before
seeking to influence men by suggestion.
Three fundamental conditions make us all susceptive to suggestion:
We naturally respect authority. In every mind this is only a question of degree, ranging from the subject who
is easily hypnotized to the stubborn mind that fortifies itself the more strongly with every assault upon its
opinion. The latter type is almost immune to suggestion.
One of the singular things about suggestion is that it is rarely a fixed quantity. The mind that is receptive to
the authority of a certain person may prove inflexible to another; moods and environments that produce
hypnosis readily in one instance may be entirely inoperative in another; and some minds can scarcely ever be
thus moved. We do know, however, that the feeling of the subject that authority--influence, power,
domination, control, whatever you wish to call it--lies in the person of the suggester, is the basis of all