When A “Duh Moment” Is Simply Misplaced Common Sense

I was reading a new research report today, one of several that caught my attention. My roosevelt_portrait_photo_01first reaction to this report was — how is it that people don’t already know this?

My second reaction: of course they don’t know this. If they did, half of the idiocy in this week’s news would never have happened.

To explain:

An article in the Journal of Consumer Research tries to explain the failure of fund raising efforts for charities in terms of how requests are presented.  The campaign that takes into consideration what motivates the audience will work; the one that ignores or runs counter to these motivations will fall flat.(1)

As a researcher, I’ve known that for decades.  It’s stating the obvious. Or, for some people, the not so obvious.

We live in a world in which people do things that aren’t intended to persuade others.

  • What does kneeling during the National Anthem do? Nothing.
  • What does getting angry at someone kneeling during the National Anthem do? Nothing.

No one is convinced to change sides. No positive action is taken. It’s all irrelevant, meaningless and rather a waste of time.

  • What does proposing a rather poorly thought out health care bill do? Nothing. It was basically dead on introduction, although some drama was inserted to make the action seem interesting.
  • What does opposition do? Well, it keeps healthcare from getting worse but doesn’t provide any positive improvements. So, in a real sense, nothing.

If you want to accomplish something, you have to recognize that you will come into contact with people with different ideas than you have, and you need their help. That means dialog and compromise. As the research says, what matters is not what you want so much as how you present your case.

If you’re a grass roots organizer, a reformer, a campaign manager, a marriage counselor or a business owner trying to increase sales, you have to know that. How you say something is just as important as what you say.

Trump has proven that if he is willing to work with Democrats and moderate Republicans, he can pass bills. He’s done it, notably the US debt ceiling revision. However, on healthcare and tax reform and North Korea, he returns to ways that have been proven not to work. He’s a smart guy. Why is he doing that? Is that how you appear to keep a campaign promise that you don’t really want to keep?

TR knew the importance of how you phrase your case. Lincoln knew it. Knowing is a key difference between being effective and ineffective, between goodness and greatness.


  1. Bonnie Simpson, Katherine White, Juliano Laran. When Public Recognition for Charitable Giving Backfires: The Role of Independent Self-Construal. Journal of Consumer Research, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/jcr/ucx101
  2. University of Western Ontario. “Why public appeals may fall flat with some would-be donors.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 September 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170928142108.htm>

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