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How to Argue and Win Every Time ... at Home, at Work, in Court, Everywhere, Everyday.

Gerry Spence's newest book brims with tales about how "truth will out" in the courtroom, bedroom, schoolroom, factory, and office. According to Larry King, on whose TV programs Spence appears and whose quote appears on the book's jacket, "How to Argue and Win Every Time is more than just a book about argument; it's the outline on how to live."

Spence believes that humans are "hard wired" not only to learn their mother tongue but also to use language primarily to tell stories. The author considers it his "play" to marshal facts, index and date them, put a human face on them, and present them - to judges, juries, prosecutors, loved ones, children, and peers. He does this with an honest, sincere, and "naked passion," visualizing, in a parable, a judge who orders everyone in the courtroom to take off their clothes because "I'm [the judge] sick up to here with all the cover-ups and snow jobs I get from fancy Brooks Brothers pin-striped suits. Lawyers who present their cases naked are more likely to tell the truth."

Naked, honest (in a childlike sense) and truthful analogies, aphorisms, metaphors, and fables are sprinkled throughout this book to illustrate how the author makes people see, feel, understand, and care ... and make judgments in his clients' favor.

The philosopher Montaigne claimed that " understand everything is to forgive everything." Spence comes close to paraphrasing Montaigne in that he tries, on behalf of his clients, to achieve empathy, "get inside the hide" of a defendant, and make judge and jury feel and experience the human emotions that contributed to the circumstances of the legal case before them. He goes even further asking the judge to think about the law differently from the manner in which it could be literally interpreted. Spence asks for consideration of the intent of the law, how justice might better be served, how an ethical concern might take precedence when the law of unintended consequences could result in the miscarriage of justice and/or outright injustice under the specific circumstances of the case.

Application of this highly abstracted language might best be illustrated if one first reads Chapter 12. Here, Spence's stories are real, down to earth, and powerful because he argues cases from what he calls "the heart zone."

Chapter 12 also "enlightens" one to the reality that "the heart zone" can be employed on behalf of either the person wearing "the white hat" or the miscreant wearing "the black hat." Spence seems sincere, even though he can ascribe to "circumstances" the blame in virtually every tort case used to illustrate his techniques.

This "apparent sincerity" is a self-taught "mindset" explained in a chapter called "The Magical Argument." Like most chapters in this book, it's filled with stories, in this case very personal ones. They made this reviewer wonder whether anyone else could adopt/adapt such a mindset, such was Spence's invincible feeling of the certainty of the outcome/logic, and righteousness of the argument/the "truth" of his prepared statements.

Spence writes: "I warn you, a winning stance is never achieved by trying. I hear some say, 'I will try as hard as I can.' Trying is for losers. Trying implies the possibility of losing. I will try to win. I will try not to lose. If after trying they have lost, well, they tried, did they not? Losers always try. Winners never try. Winners only win."

Spence prefaces this apparent arrogance with a statement illustrating his mindset. Obviously, he does not believe he is setting up for failure those who read his book and follow his path. Preceding "Winners only win," he states, "One must be cautious in assuming such power as I have suggested. It is a very great power, indeed ... power [which can] easily slip over the fine line into arrogance? Unaccustomed to feeling this power, we can abandon humility. That one occupies the center of one's universe does not preclude humility. One must remember that. One occupies the center of one's own universe only because one has made the choice, not out of arrogance but out of truth. Truth is never arrogant."

Most readers of ETC. probably regard truth, law, beauty as relative terms and believe that much could be said - indeed an infinity of things - about any "pure" concept - indeed about purity itself.

The "signal reaction" of anger receives a great deal of attention from Spence. He labels it a secondary response to hurt/pain. Hurt can originate from perceived attack, be it lack of respect, personal slight, etc. To ameliorate hurt and discover a way to deal with it, the author advises us to seek the specific cause of the hurt and its resultant pain. This is an honest and truthful approach to argumentation. Concurrently with trying to identify the cause of pain and hurt, there, naturally, occurs a time lapse - a most important factor which contributes to de-escalating the violence of continued charges and countercharges. Simply restating or paraphrasing "the other's" argument provides us the opportunity to discover the root causes of the pain, the not always obvious agenda of "the other" and, in so doing, we uncover "truth." By analogy, "truth" is that hub contained at the center of the proverbial onion; it may also be viewed as the "heart zone," vulnerable, timid, and emotionally protected by layers of artifice, guile, and surface sophistication.

The "truth" of which Spence speaks, is the truth as he portrays it, how he chooses to interpret it and how, in his extensive experience of more than forty years, he has not lost a criminal case if presenting it before a jury. Should one read, heed, and confront Spence with the mindset he, himself, has developed and revealed? If he were presented with an equally compelling and truthful argument "from the Heart Zone," as he describes it, what would happen?

The conundrums populating the field of general semantics research include the epistemological stalemate which must occur when two advocates with similar mindsets present "truth which is never arrogant" to a jury of humanistic ethicists. Can we conceive of alternative, more effective ways to communicate the contestants' ideas?

I'm still mulling over this. My own notes and the book, itself, deserve a rereading.

Thomas E. Walsh New York, New York
COPYRIGHT 1995 Institute of General Semantics
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Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Walsh, Thomas E.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1995
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