From Merriam-Webster: a usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident. Synonyms: story, tale.
The artful placement of an anecdote is key to being persuasive in the American culture. Stories are convincing. They speak to our experience. Storytelling. Great leaders in business, politics, culture know how to speak to the imagination of their audience. Listen to former President Bill Clinton speak at the funeral service for Aretha Franklin:
The Byzantine official Procopius wrote three historical works in Greek. In the first two, he dealt with wars and public works projects, but the third was something of a departure from this kind of history. Referred to as “Anekdota,” from the Greek a-meaning “not,” and ekdidonai, meaning “to publish,” it contained bitter attacks on the emperor Justinian, his wife, and other notables of contemporary Constantinople.
Clinton’s nominating speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention nominating Barack Obama for a second term as president is considered a masterpiece in persuasion. It is full of fascinating anecdotes.
In this episode we find out what people in Berlin think about Elon Musk. Musk has just been named Person of the Year by Time Magazine and is known as an entrepreneur and visionary but also for causing controversies.
On the outskirts of Berlin, he is currently building the European headquarters of his car brand Tesla – a good moment for us to find out what Germans think about Elon Musk. Our friend Emanuel from yourdailygerman is with us on the streets today to ask the people!
Interestingly, but not suprising, most of the Germans are negative about Musk: egocentric, unrealistic, etc. Whereas as the non-Germans are more positive.
“Given Silicon Valley is in Germany, you’d think the Germans would be more open to innovation and the fruits of capitalism. Hmmmm.” (a comment on YouTube. Irony at its best.)
“A few years ago she explained in an interview that she simply never believed that ‘a person can touch other people so much with words that they change their minds.’
Accordingly, she has always focused more on actions than words. She almost never gives interviews to foreign news outlets, and those she gives the German media are rarely exciting. She has never supplied the tabloids with even a hint of scandal.”
That’s Serge Schmemann, the decades-long journalist for the New York Times, about Angela Merkel in an article on September 26, 2021, election day in Germany, when Merkel, after sixteen years in office, is not on the ballot.
This is a famous movie scene with Alec Baldwin. If you are in sales now or ever have been, brace yourselves, it is very, very intense. And remember, sales at its core is persuasion. From the movie: Glengarry Glen Ross.
There are some very well-known, even famous, actors in this scene. Can you name them?
Systematic thinking is the foundation of all research. Germany has produced many great thinkers in the natural and social sciences. They are best known for their systematic approach.
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was the daughter of German nobility, but decided at an early age to join the Benedictine nuns. She went on to become one of the best educated and wisest of her era, advising secular and religious leaders throughout Europe. Hildegard’s fields of expertise ranged from theology to medicine, music, ethics and cosmology. Her discoveries and insights in the area of plant-based medicines are referred to today.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the leading philosophers of the Enlightenment Age. His Kritik der reinen Vernunft is considered to be the starting point of modern philosophy, creating a new, systematic approach to inquiry. Kant addressed not only the theory of knowledge, but also ethics and aesthetics, the philosophy of religion, law and history, as well as astronomy and the geosciences.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749-1832) is considered to this day to be the greatest of all German writers. His work encompassed, however, also the natural sciences including botany, optics and the philosophy of color – Farbenlehre.
Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a Prussian General and military theorist. His VomKriege (On War) a systematic approach to strategy, tactics and the philosophy of war, became the foundation of military thinking in all Western nations. Clausewitz’ writings went beyond how wars are won to address the overall nature and meaning of war in the modern world.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) is renowned as a philosopher, political economist and social critic. Together with Friedrich Engels, Marx analyzed during the height of the industrial revolution the mutual influences and interactions between a society‘s consciousness and its economic system. Although Marxism has proven to fail in practice, it led to what many would consider significant social progress in public education, health care, social legislation. Marx’ writings contributed to the creation of labor unions.
Max Weber (1864-1920) was a German sociologist, legal scholar, and political economist. He is considered a founding father of modern sociology. Weber’s theories influenced greatly the so-called specialty areas of sociology: economics, religion, political power structures.
Karl Rahner (1904-1984) is considered to be the most influential Catholic theologian since Thomas Aquinas. His work opened up Catholic theology to a new and deeper understanding of faith. Rahner’s thinking influenced greatly the Second Vatical Council. Inspired by his studies under Martin Heidegger, Rahner synthesized Catholic theology with the philosophies of the modern era.
When Americans sell too energetically Germans find it a bit crass, loud, unpolished. I see in my mind’s eye a certain kind of television advertising in the U.S. Evenings. Six p.m. A local station. A local car dealership. The owner him-/herself, with his face up close to the camera, in a loud voice: “This is the greatest deal of the century. Buy fast, folks, before it’s too late!”
Or I think of the famous, and often infamous, television evangelical preachers of the 1980s and 90s, with tears in their eyes asking their audience in the church and in their living rooms to “speak directly to God” – via an 1-800 telephone number – and make a donation.
What Germans do not understand, and reject (often vehemently), is the caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) approach in the American business context. The difference between the German Auskunftspflicht and caveat emptor is dramatic and leads to significant misunderstanding and irritation.
What surprises, throws off balance, and can anger Germans is when Americans while selling their product, service, concept or idea only mention its strengths, even though the Germans sense, or even know, of its weaknesses.
They often notice immediately when Americans exaggerate the positive and either play down or leave unmentioned the negative. And if the negatives are mentioned, then as if by some magic they can actually be converted into strengths, if understood and managed properly.
Depending on how much experience Germans have working with Americans, the caveat emptor approach can lead to indignation. At a minimum Americans can be viewed as being tricky, clever, in some cases even as lying.
The past, especially the recent past, helps us to understand the present. But it is only from the present, from the current starting point, that we can go down new paths, move in a different, perhaps even radically different, direction. All Americans are immigrants or descendents of immigrants. The historical consciousness of the American people is greatly influenced by the immigrant experience. Imagine what it was like for those millions upon millions of families to take that step, to leave their home and to risk the unknown.
For most of them not freely. For many it was a question of survival. For others it was about freedom. They wanted to decide their own fates, and wanted the same for their children. Nonetheless, the decision was very difficult. It meant leaving everything they knew, everything that gave them security. Once they left, however, the present and past of their native country would no longer be relevant. But what do human beings have other than their past and present? The unknown, insecurity and risk? Or do they have opportunity?
In such situations people have to make hard, tough decisions, about what they take with them from the past and the present. Of course all immigrant groups, including the waves of Germans who came to America, brought their language, customs and traditions. The older generations continued to speak their mother tongue. Foreign-language newspapers were published in all of the major American cities. All that they knew and brought over lasted, however, only for a certain period of time.
The everyday challenges of life in America rubbed and pulled away, layer for layer, the recent present and the past of the homeland. The immigrants took on, layer for layer, the realities of the current present in the United States, like having old skin replaced by new. It was painful. The time came in every immigrant family when the children no longer wanted, or no longer could, speak the language of the old world.
Many parents who immigrated demanded of their children that they assimilate as quickly as possible, that they forget the old language, customs and traditions. They had decided to leave their homes, towns and homelands. They refused to get stuck between two realities. To move forward demanded that they leave behind what they had known. It was time to go down a new path. The cares, worries and chores of the day left them no other choice.
That path to and in America was difficult, hard, rough. Many did not make, did not succeed. Every wave of immigrants had to fight for their future in America. Everything which weighed them down, every form of ballast, had to go. And that meant much that was associated with the homeland. For many, even for most, however, throwing overboard the ballast of the past set them free.
Bonn. I remain standing. Ten or fifteen minutes. I imagine as best I can a summer day back during one of those years. What was life like in any of the houses, the homes, in that neighborhood? Just around the corner is the Karthäuserplatz, a small square, where I lived from 1991-95. In a three-room apartment on the third floor.
On the first two floors lived three sisters, all in their 80’s, never married. Born in the early 1910’s they would remember the last years of the First World War, and most certainly all too well the entire Second World War. I imagine what it was like for them. Did they have brothers? Did those men/boys fight, kill, die? Catholics in the German Rhineland.
I imagine, see the pictures move by in my mind‘s eye. Three brothers. Second World War. Wehrmacht. The one dies in the early days of the invasion of Poland in September 1939. The second survives the 1944 Ardennenoffensive – what Americans call the Battle of the Bulge – only to then die in Vienna in early 1945, not long before the end of the war.
The third brother survives the war, including several years as a prisoner in Russia. Their mother (the father had died in 1918 on the Western Front of WWI) and the three sisters pick him up one summer day in 1949 upon his arrival in Bonn by train via Berlin. Within a year and a half he would die of gangrene.
I am fifty-five years old. All of my brothers – two older, two younger – are still alive. None of us has killed or been killed. My son, Daniel, was born in May 1998. His mother is German. He is a German-American boy, more German than American. A school project in History. The fourth grade.
The children are asked to find in Bonn the evidence, indications, the signs that once, many centuries ago, the Romans had lived in what became Bonn. He and his mother take a long walking tour. Bonn is a small town. Daniel is excited. He soaks it all in. My son, my boy, is growing up in Germany. My own flesh and blood. He is learning to think historically. He is learning to understand his present. He is being prepared to deal with the future.
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