I’m 44 next month so musing on what I’ve done with my time has become almost as big an obsession for me as wondering when exactly I became invisible to women of a certain, younger age. Current thinking – 32.
For grumpy old men like me, it’s a sobering thought that Mozart was famous across Europe by the time he was six and had composed La Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni by the time he was 31. The solitary thing that cheers me up is the knowledge that by my age he’d already been dead nine years. This is great because nobody likes a smart arse do they, Amadeus?
At least it’s given me a chance to learn a few things, including getting better at getting what I want. One of them is something you could call ego-jitsu. The central tenet of ego-jitsu is very simple – that it is possible to get what you want by using the weight of somebody else’s ego against them.
People have always done it, but I first took an interest in the basic principles quite a few years ago under the unknowing guidance of my then boss. After I’d left his employment, I once managed to call him a bastard in an article that I’d written and he thanked me for it. Partly this is down the fact that I genuinely like and respect him and he knows it, partly down to a classic ego-jitsu move which involves mixing flattery and insults in a carefully measured combination.
This is a particularly effective move for the British who have an instinctive distrust of flattery, as Kate Fox wrote about at length in her book Watching the English. An American tends to take flattery as sincere. A Brit sees it as a sign that somebody is a creep or up to something or both. For the British, it’s much better for somebody to openly insult you first. Only then can you get away with the flattery. A spoonful of medicine helps the sugar go down.
According to Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary, an egotist is ‘a person more interested in himself than me’, which gives you the chance to practice ego-jitsu on nearly everybody you meet. It helps to know who you are up against. Look for signs of a usable ego during your first encounter; outward signs of vanity such as expensive clothing and an unhealthy interest in the car they drive; a desire to give an opinion on everything; being from Yorkshire. You should also know your own strengths as well as your target’s hot spots. These are likely to depend on many aspects of your personality, whether you are male or female, good looking or not, how the other person sees you.
They don’t teach it in any management books, but the ability of certain women to lead a man where she wants him based only on a particular kind of attentiveness coupled with the evolution down countless millennia of male libido-induced stupidity is a constant source of fascination to me. What invariably helps, of course, is for the other person to underestimate you, and to overestimate themselves. Columbo offers the best example of an ego-jitsu master at work. For those of us with Columbo’s attitude towards personal appearance, half the work is already done.
Well, I may not be all that great at it, but I’ve given it a name and I know it when I see it. And I bet I’m not as good at it as you.