Ask for favors, live longer

Hamilton & Franklin, a trick to make people like you, and 7 other things worth your time.

Alexander Hamilton is hot right now, but if you’re a Benjamin Franklin impersonator, times are tough. Most of this has to do with the success of Hamilton, of course. Franklin is among the unfortunate Founding Fathers who never make an appearance.

That makes historical sense — their paths crossed intermittently, as Franklin was 49 years older than Hamilton, and he was in France during most of the Revolution. But I’ve always had the sense that these two were opposites in a key way—and now I’ve put a few hours of “amateur historianing” into testing it:

  • As Lin-Manuel Miranda put it once, Hamilton “caught beef with every other Founding Father.”

  • But Franklin was a consummate diplomat who found a way to get along with almost everyone. He was such a popular icon during his time in France that his hat and wig inspired fashion trends.

In fact, Franklin was so good at getting along even with people who didn’t like him, that a story from his autobiography led to his trick being called the Ben Franklin effect.

My colleague Jessica Stillman wrote about it for a while back, and with her permission I’m including part of her explanation here:

Franklin writes how, as a young politician, he needed to win over a rival who had denounced him. His first reaction, naturally enough, was to be ticked off at the guy, but Franklin was too clever to let his anger show.

Instead, he asked to borrow a rare book. His antagonist was known to be a keen collector who took great pride in his book collection. Flattered by Franklin's interest, he sent the book over straight away.

Franklin graciously returned it with a thank you note, and soon, Franklin wrote, the man’s attitude warmed considerably.

It’s hard for someone to simultaneously be kind to you and dislike you, Franklin surmised, and therefore, his adversary's feelings shifted, leaving him feeling more favorably toward his rival. 

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another,” Franklin wrote, “than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

Or in modern parlance, getting someone to do you a favor is a more effective way to make them like you then doing them a favor yourself. 

Science backs him up now. Repeated studies have found that because the human mind hates cognitive dissonance (holding two contradictory thoughts at the same time), it will try to resolve the conflict between kind actions and unkind opinions by shifting its opinions to be more favorable. 

In essence, if you do something nice for someone, your mind concludes you must at least kind of like them.

Franklin used the trick; he lived to be age 84 and died in his bed. Hamilton was known for no such thing, and he was shot to death in a duel at age 49. You be the judge.

That said, comity (Franklin) apparently isn’t as interesting as conflict (Hamilton), otherwise the country might have gone crazy over a musical called Franklin, instead.

Bottom line: Ask for favors, make people like you more — and maybe even live longer as a result.

7 other things worth your time

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