The Subtle Art Of Managing The Conversation To Your Advantage


Those of you old enough to remember the 1940’s and 50’s would also be old enough to remember Stephen Potter – but few will. Mr Potter was the man who wrote about the subtle art of advancing yourself in life – through Gamesmanship, Lifemanship, One-Upmanship. and Supermanship. It was a series of books from 1947 until 1958. They were a peculiarly English sort of publication, low-keyed and subtle, and as damning a set of words as anything since the middle ages.

I loved them.

Imagine my pleasure in finding a modern icon that allows people to practise the principles of Mr. Potter’s Lifemanship from the ease of their own homes. An opportunity to draw forth the attention of the masses and then direct it upon themselves – and most importantly to then edit the responses so that they are always placed in a favourable light – even if they have made geese of themselves. All the good and none of the bad.

This has been borne home to me recently when entering into discussions on Facebook. On five separate occasions I have added my comments to a stream of communication but discovered that those postings were later removed. Not, it would seem, because of obscenity or religious bias or political statements – just removed because the originator of the thread decided to remove them.

I was uncertain for a long time whether this was possible. I got another Facebook friend to participate in an experiment – I put up an innocuous thread and carried it forward for several postings while the partner in the experiment replied appropriately. Then I deliberately edited out one of her comments and asked her to see if it had disappeared from her feed. Bingo. It proved that while I was not in control of what she could think, I was in control of whether she could say it.

That is a fearsome and wonderful power – the power to make a person disappear from a conversation for voicing what you don’t wish to hear. Used judicially one could make all voices those of praise…

Stephen, you passed too soon. You would have been glorious now.

Addendum: This last weekend saw the Australian national day of military remembrance – 100 years on from the start of the land campaign in the Dardanelles. For the most part it passed with dignity, though there were a few incidents – as there always are.

A major grocery store chain was subjected to public criticism for featuring the day as part of their advertisements. Mild stuff.

More to the point of this post – an announcer on one of the national television channels was fired for making statements critical of military history and those who observe the day. The frightening thing is that those statements were made on social media posts – not on the television station. Damn him or not – for good reason or none – it is indicative of a deepening level of censorship and control of thought – through the internet and beyond.


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