Sunday, January 2, 2011

On Personal Influence

Oscar Wilde writes in his stellar work - The Picture of Dorian Gray

'All influence is immoral - immoral from the scientific point of view.'
'Because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are any such things as sins, are borrowed....The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly - that is what each of us are here for.'

This is one excerpt that comes to my mind whenever I come across any situation in which an urge to influence someone overwhelms me. Influence like power has lost its real meaning and instead has come to be associated with a negative context. The longman definition reads : "to affect the way someone or something develops, behaves, thinks etc without directly forcing or ordering them" which is not how we understand the above excerpt. 

Coming to the topic of personal influence, (as different from professional influence which is a completely different topic) is it per se, good or bad? I guess, the answer is neither. It is somewhere in between and depends to a large extent on context and each person's experience set. By experience set, I mean the sum total of his/her experiences in life that shape a person's character and thinking. 

Failing to read the context and failing to view every person's experience set as unique will get us into numerous conflicts. Life unfortunately does not present us with answers in black and white. There are countless shades of grey. Some people can very quickly put themselves in another person's shoes and hence they are, by definition, the malleable and receptive types. Others, rigid and firm, stick to their world views. As we see, multiple factors are at play here when it comes to exercise and impact of influence. 

Literally speaking, should one exert influence? (because the definition excludes direct ordering and forcing) I suppose, the answer is no. One can at best, put forth one's view point as a means to make sure that the other party knows it. Beyond that, if there is a disagreement, it gets complex. The conclusion is, influence cannot be exerted! It just happens when the other party comes to accept our world view.

Some things are universal - the issue of corruption or bribing or cheating for example. There is a clear sense of right and wrong involved whereas some things, as observed earlier, are largely affected by one's own personal experiences. It is important to objectively separate these two. As adults, this involves two things -

  1. Accepting the other person for what he/she is with all their attendant positives and negatives. Loving them for what they are, while simultaneously, being aware of their faults. Never getting into the realm of judgment!
  2. At all points, expressing our views - it is up to the other person to agree/disagree. Never imposing, perhaps imposing is misunderstood as equivalent to influencing! 
It is easy to write about, but eminently difficult to practice.  To rephrase and summarize, We should simply let our fellow human beings make their choices while making sure that they are intelligent enough to discern the consequences of those choices. 

This ends the rambling for now...  

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