On my way up the ladder of politics I worked for some men with special political skills but former mayor A.L. “Chunk” Bender was the most natural and adept politician of them all. He gave me the best maxim I have ever heard and it was consummately simple: “Son, remember, if they can predict you, they can control you.”
It took years for this truth to prove itself to me. It sounded strange when he first said it. It just hovered on the roof of my mind like a bat in a cave. Time after time, I saw it come true before my eyes until it became one of my primary laws of living.
I remember the context for his statement. I was his administrative aide and sometime he would go over a report the FBI gave him on radicals and radical groups, white and black, operating in Chattanooga during that time of racial tension. He asked me to try to become cordial with one of those radicals.
I succeeded in becoming cordial enough with the man that it required me to report to the mayor regularly. When I told him what the man said and did, he would tell me exactly what the guy would do next.
One day I said, “Please tell me how you know what this man is going to do next. You have never been wrong.”
He said, “Hate and prejudice control him. He will respond to situations with hate and prejudice. Remember, son, if they can predict you they can control you.”
When I repeatedly saw the truth of his maxim played out before my eyes, I made a decision to not respond to situations in a knee-jerk, robotic, predictable way. It became a regular practice with me to think of what people were likely to expect me to do and to think of constructive ways to try a different way.
Bender’s Rule, as I came to call it, is one of the best political tools. I once used it to cause a political adversary to walk right over a bluff, politically speaking. I never had any more trouble with that adversary.
To my happy surprise, I discovered Bender’s Rule works just as well in business and other life applications. Former Chattanooga News Free Press publisher, Frank McDonald, paid me a compliment I have treasured for years. He said, “I am going to ask a syndicate to consider using your column and here’s why: I can look at the columnists in my paper as well as the Chattanooga Times and tell you what they are going to say before I read them. But you rascal, I never know what you are going to say. I value that unpredictability.”
When I first started applying Bender’s Rule, I vowed at each decision point to ask, “Is there another way to look at this?” I discovered something obvious but often overlooked: there is always another way to look at any situation we face in life. We are so emotionally locked into knee-jerk ways because some authority figure we loved and trusted or greatly feared told us exactly how to look at things.
With all due respect for all the authority figures I have loved and trusted or greatly feared, I opted for the freedom we all desire -- to make up our own minds. We owe our mind to no person or organization and until we break that hold, we can never be free men and women.
Later I added another step to my use of Bender’s Rule in making decisions. Instead of asking if there is another way of looking at a situation, I ask how many other ways can I think of to look at it. Then I choose from all those options.
Try Bender’s Rule. Let nothing be predictable about you except your character.
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