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The Humor Quotient Newsletter

Vol. 2, No. 3, November 1996, Winona, MN 55987


HQN is dedicated primarily to presenting quantitative research findings with respect to humor.  Over the last two years, these findings have been derived from three experimental data sets derived mainly from Minnesota and Winona State University:  The Humor Quotient Test (HQT), the Critical Thinking Inventory (CTI), and the Legislative Simulation (LS).  To date, HQN has focused on reliability, validity, and other technical issues while reporting high-confidence results of this experimentation.  Unfortunately, statistical proof of a mathematical model is far from a living understanding adaptable to practical problems.  So in this issue of HQN, we turn from the purely scientific and mathematical to a more humanistic approach to humor which can then be compared and contrasted with actual research results.


Toward an American, Humorous Rhetoric:  Benjamin Franklin, Part 1.


The Legislative Simulation takes a decidedly pragmatic and inductive approach to rhetoric.  Instead of arguing from general principles, it posits better than 20 potential stylistic determinants of success in negotiation.  It then devises a way to measure simultaneously these determinants’ use in negotiation and the overall success of negotiators using these determinants.  Instead of deductive argument, the Legislative Simulation relies on quantitative correlations from actual if simulated experience.






From the LS, we can say that use of authority is highly effective for negotiation success, as is use of facts.  All classical rhetorics would probably agree.  But the LS also records sociological variables.  And from these, we can say that, for writing-interested upper-class and graduate students at Winona State University and Augsburg College, authority is much more certainly useful for women than for men. Classical rhetoric would be revolutionized by such variable findings.


The highly analytic nature of the LS, however, works against real appreciation of the significance of such results.  How, for example, can we properly appreciate or appropriate the finding that being good-humored and taking kidding well are not associated with high negotiation success among these American respondents?


The quandary is, in fact, an essential clue.  Negotiation styles come in clusters, not in analytic atoms.  Our sense of what it means to negotiate comes from full-person pictures whether our picture is of a loud, used-car salesman or of a globally strategizing Henry Kissinger.  We find it easier to imitate a full-person model, and we are probably far more successful at it.


These realities suggest that we approach LS analytic results through a synthetic or holistic consideration of a working model.  Well-known models of this kind are found almost exclusively in “literature”  broadly defined.


Franklin as Holistic Humor-Employing Negotiation Model


As a pioneering effort in this direction, then, let us try to define what is perhaps the most famous and least understood of all American models of whole-person negotiation, the person of Benjamin Franklin.  The great irony in this choice is, of course, that so little has been directly done on Franklin as negotiator—even when he stands pre-eminent among Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Paine, and the Adamses as framer of the American experiment in government.


HQN Editor:  Paul Grawe, Department of English, Winona State University, Winona, MN 55987

Tel:  (507) 457-5443; email:  PGRAWE@VAX2.WINONA.MSUS.EDU






Despite the lack of academic appreciation in this area, Franklin’s stature among Europeans was clearly the single greatest factor in giving the American Revolution legitimacy against the millennial argument for strict obedience to regal authority.  And his steadiness in extreme old age guided the less mature statesmen of the Constitutional Convention in creating the world’s most organized attempt at democratic self-government.


Privately, Franklin maintained one of the great international correspondences of the Enlightenment and was accepted as advisor to many of the leading minds of his times, his correspondence with Priestly being a prime example.  In public, Franklin’s diplomatic work was internationally famous and oddly high-profile, characterized by a high sense of self-deprecatory wit.


Franklin’s career, moreover, is studded with his innumerable negotiated successes convincing fellow Pennsylvanians to undertake the works of a great civilization on primitive means.  He is remembered for convincing Quakers to support defense expenditures, for starting the first public library, and for founding the University of Pennsylvania.  In all these, his preferred role was unelected, consensus-building, private negotiator.


Probably Franklin’s highest accomplishment, however, was as printer and writer, the first of the American literary newsmen. Through Poor Richard’s Almanac and other writings, he not only directed opinion on current events but also largely defined for Americans the successful attitudes of a business-oriented society.  These continue to be celebrated in everything from Franklin banks to Franklin mutual funds.


Through it all, Franklin maintained a self-depreciation that particularly suited his Quaker-dominated Philadelphia society with its abhorrence of personal pretension and vain-glory.  However parochial this background, along with New England shrewdness, it informed the man, and the man informed America’s unconscious sense of successful rhetoric.


Other than the Almanac, Franklin engraved himself on American memory mainly through his Autobiography.  From these sources, we can quickly compile the principles of a full-person rhetoric.






The Franklin Formula for Successful Negotiation


Central to Franklin as negotiator was his sense of witty humor matched with good-humor and kindliness.  Compare Ben on the $100 bill to Washington on the $1, Jefferson on the $2, Lincoln on the $5, and Jackson on the $20.  Which is the joking, good-humored, kindly one?  Americans are told the answer by the cash they carry.


These attributes, except wit, are less associated with Franklin’s native New England and more with the Society of Friends and their radical concepts of Christian conduct.  Like the Society, Franklin portrays himself as inherently serious, from early adolescence onward taking an intense interest in both public and private affairs.  To these, he consistently brings original solutions, which delight or antagonize but are never unnoticed.  Originality leads later to kite-flying in electric storms and ultimately to an unparalleled place among the most conservatively revolutionary agitators in history.


So, with however much effacement, for at least a century and a half after his death, Franklin was held before American youth, the shrewd among whom may have noticed that these attributes somehow came together in a pre-eminently successful negotiator.  (Note how Franklin, enshrined in currency with Presidents, routinely eclipses them all in literature, science, and the practical emulation of his country.)


No one who has seriously studied Franklin responds to these characteristics—seriousness, jocularity, good-humor, ability to accept kidding, kindliness, originality, and helpfulness in getting something done—as isolates.  They all come part and parcel with the man.


The challenge then for the Legislative Simulation is to say something worthwhile about this holistic achievement.  Do the analytic results of the LS provide any insight into the achievement? Perhaps Franklin’s self, so largely informed by the Society of Friends, was also mainly exercised in negotiation within that parochial society—in which case it probably never was a particularly apt American model for negotiation.  Or perhaps the jocular good-humor and wit so clearly central to Franklin’s public self are an underestimated foundation for negotiation American-style.  Part II of this article considers LS results in that challenging light.





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