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The Power of Ridiculous Reasons - Scott Adams' Blog

The Power of Ridiculous Reasons

The human mind is wired to accept ridiculous reasons as if they are legitimate. Studies have shown that people are more likely to agree to a favor if the word “because” is used in the request. It doesn’t seem to matter what follows that word. As long as the sentence is in the form of a reason, people accept it as though some actual reason is present. (See the book Influence.)

I’ve often used this method. I think I’ve mentioned these uses before, but I will reiterate to set up my larger point.

Guys tend to argue over who picks up the check after dinner. In cases where I know this situation is likely to arise, I prepare a ridiculous “because” reason that I trot out when the moment is right. After allowing the other guy or guys to make their ceremonial attempt at paying, I say something like “I’ll pay today because this is the seven month anniversary of when you bought your car. Congratulations.” I’m exaggerating slightly, but it isn’t hard to come up with some trivial reason why you should pay. The funny thing is that any reason you offer will settle the discussion. It works every time.

Another situation in which the ridiculous reason works is when a large dinner group is being served and only half of the people have their dishes. Everyone sits there staring at their food as it cools, trying to be polite. In these cases I say loudly “According to etiquette, you can start eating as soon as three people have been served.” Everyone instantly digs in. I think I read that rule of etiquette somewhere, but it’s clearly a random number. There is nothing special about three. Ridiculous reasons win again.

I mention these examples because I think the world needs another ridiculous rule to solve some big problems. And it’s no fair saying my new rule is ridiculous because that’s exactly the point. The new rule would be this: Any land controlled by a country for 50 years straight is legitimately theirs. It’s like a statute of limitations for armed resistance.

Obviously the people living in the disputed lands will reject this rule when it kicks in. It’s really for the benefit of others who might be inclined to help the continued struggle for independence. Most struggles depend on outside help. This rule allows the outside helpers to withdraw without being dishonorable.

While the 50 year rule is clearly arbitrary and ridiculous, our minds allow us to accept such things as if they are real rules. So in time it might influence the inhabitants of the disputed lands to accept their situation. Realistically, if a country is controlled for 50 years, it’s probably going to stay controlled. Continued resistance doesn’t benefit anyone.

Consider all of the international struggles that involve lands conquered more than 50 years ago, or approaching that. The partisans need a reason to stop fighting that doesn’t sound like they are a bunch of quitters. Honor is at stake. The 50 year rule is the non-reason reason.

I am aware that this rule, if followed, would sanction enormous unfairness, subjugation, apartheid, and worse. But those things would happen with or without the rule. The only difference is how many innocent people die trying to change a situation that is unlikely to change.