“Don’t push those buttons!“

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ambivalence as “simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action; continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite); uncertainty as to which approach to follow.”

Attraction and repulsion. Germans are attracted by logical, well-researched and -argued statements. But they are also attracted by personal appeal, by a speaker who is both appealing and appealing to, as in reaching out to.

Germans are repulsed by an imbalance between rational (objective) and personal (subjective) appeal. “Mehr Schein als Sein”, which translates into “more appearance than substance”, is a severe criticism. But they are also repulsed, perhaps more so, by a sophisticated and effective appeal to emotions, to the less rational.

Degraded from subject to object

Germans are also capable of persuading by placing themselves front and center, by establishing a personal connection, by appealing to emotions. They choose not to, however. They choose not to teach, train or reinforce a conscious appeal to the emotions. Ambivalence. They can, and often want to, but are wary of the negative effects. Instead, Germans feel the need, the obligation, to constrain themselves, to “not go there”.

Why? Partly it is their strong scientific, rational, intellectually rigorous approach. Partly it is their belief that persuasion should not be deceptive. Appealing to human emotions – “pushing all of the right buttons” without the listener being aware of it – is a form of manipulation.

For if the listener is not aware that their thinking is being steered by their emotions, she or he is not in a position to freely choose to accept or reject the arguments presented. That person is reduced from subject to object. Deception. Manipulation.