How Edward House Manipulated the Mind of William Jennings Bryan

In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent his friend and advisor Edward House to Europe as a peace emissary, even though Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan badly wanted the position. And House was the one who had to let Bryan know that he hadn’t been chosen for the job. But House didn’t simply tell Bryan, “President Wilson didn’t choose you as the peace emissary. He chose me.” Instead, House put a spin on the news, in order to make it palatable to Wilson’s ego. Rather than making it seem like Bryan had been rejected, he implied that the President felt Bryan was too important to be sent on a mission that was supposed to be unofficial, and that it would look peculiar to the public for someone like Bryan to attend a meeting in Europe as a peace emissary. In other words, he said something like, “President Wilson wanted you–but since you’re the Secretary of State, he can’t have you occupying a much lower position like peace emissary.” And that was enough to change things completely. Bryan ended up feeling flattered by Wilson’s decision, even though ordinarily, it would have offended him. The news itself didn’t change. But House altered its presentation so it would be received well by a particular person.

House had to address the issue. He couldn’t just dodge it an focus on something else. He had to present the idea, “I was chosen as peace emissary, and you weren’t.” But he didn’t have to merely present it that way. So he found a way that accounted for who Bryan was and the way he perceived things. He managed to both bring up the issue and properly deal with the person, by presenting it from an unorthodox but believable perspective. It was especially believable by Bryan, simply because his ego would readily accept the idea that he was an important man who ranked above the ranks of a mere peace emissary.

And keep in mind that people in general–including those of high rank, like Bryan–tend to have an ample amount of egoism and narcissism. Presidents, billionaires, celebrities, grocery clerks, children, scientists, plumbers–all groups tend to be highly manipulable in general when someone makes appeals to their ego. From a distance, people who are high up on a social ladder might seem more adept at seeing someone else’s attempt to manipulate them that way. But upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that they’re not, even though they might possess many exceptional qualities.

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