The Fine Art of Wheedling
I was in a farm supply store the other day when I heard it. I immediately recognized it as the voice of a person who is highly skilled the fine art of wheedling.
“Can I have this?” whined the voice, which belonged to a boy of about nine. I glanced in the direction of the whinging and saw that the lad was holding up a toy tractor for his mother’s perusal.
This is known to us professional wheedlers as the Surprise Setup. You blindside your target with an unexpected request; if sufficiently distracted and/ or caught off-guard, the target may acquiesce to your entreaty before he or she realizes what’s happening.
But his mom was a veteran of this game. “No,” she replied firmly. “I told you when we came in here that we were just going to pick up some hydraulic filters.”
It would take more than one negative answer to deter this expert beggar.
“Please?” pleaded the boy, sounding very much like Roger Rabbit, “It doesn’t cost much! And I’ll never ask for anything ever again!”
This gambit is known as the Logic Labyrinth, wherein the beggar tries to use reasoning to make his case. Oftentimes, this “logic” consists of a bald-faced lie.
His mom wouldn’t have any of it, replying, “I said no! You have enough toys already. Put it back, Daddy is waiting for us out in the pickup.”
The nagging lad, feeling the icy breath of defeat, pulled one last trick out of his hat. He began to take the toy tractor back to where he had found it, but walked in a manner which suggested that his feet were slogging through a thick layer of molasses. This is known among us wheedlers as the Delay Device.
The mom, having located the correct filters, saw her son’s exaggerated walking technique and called out, “Benjamin! Quit that, we’re in a hurry!”
A man appeared at the mom’s elbow. “What’s the holdup?” he asked. “Did you find the right filters? We need to get going, they’re waiting for us.”
The youngster’s tragic slow-motion affliction was miraculously cured. Sprinting up to the man, the boy held the coveted toy tractor aloft and wheedled, “Can I have this, Dad? Please? Please?”
The man glanced at the toy and said, “Sure, toss it in the cart. Let’s go, we’re late!”
Well played! The lad had successfully deployed the time-tested Pester Other Parent ruse.
The victorious boy skipped ahead of his parents’ cart on their way to the checkout counter. I nodded at him as he passed, a silent salute from one professional wheedler to another. The lad flashed a knowing grin.
Growing up on our dairy farm, I had ample opportunities to develop my wheedling techniques. We didn’t have much money, which meant there were lots of things to be begged for. And since I had to help my parents milk cows every day, I had a lot of time to hone my wheedling skills on the cold, hard whetstone of my parents’ resolve.
During my formative years, I perfected a vast assortment of wheedling routines. The Yellow-haired Yammerer. The Gravel Driveway Grovel. And perhaps the most successful of all techniques, the Perpetual Pester.
By the time my wife and I became parents, my experiences had prepared me to deal with any begging techniques our sons might throw at us. For instance, when he was about twelve, our youngest son became fixated with the idea of us – meaning him – having a 4-wheel ATV. I knew this to be true because I would hear about every evening as we milked cows.
“If we had a 4-wheeler,” our son might say, “Grandma could use it to get her mail or go down to her garden.”
Ha! He would have to do better than the timeworn Emotional Exhortation. I countered that Grandma was in her eighth decade and could no more swing her leg over the saddle of a 4-wheeler than jump over the moon.
“But you could use a 4-wheeler to fix fences and chase the cows back in when they get out,” he replied. “And maybe if you fixed more fences, the cows wouldn’t break out so much.”
He had cannily deployed a hard-to-refute line of Utilitarian Urging, a tactic I knew well. I had to struggle for a moment to find a retort.
“We simply can’t afford to buy an ATV,” I finally replied, using the PTA-approved I’m Not Made Of Money countermeasure.
I related this encounter to my wife that evening. “You cannot believe how annoying it is to have someone pester you all the time!” I said.
She looked at me and replied, “Tell me about it, Roger Rabbit!”
If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at email@example.com. His new book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.