What’s in It for Me? – George Washington’s Farewell Address


1796

“But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry.

The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted.

The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home.

The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.”

What’s In It For Me?

The art of sales has truly changed very little over the course of history. Even over 200 years ago, the Father of our Country understood that, at the end of the day, the real question is – what’s in it for me?

In this address, Washington appeals to our emotions, our better nature, our patriotism, our sense of morality, among other things. He realizes that his call for unity is so incredibly important, that he needs to use every weapon in his arsenal to communicate to his audience just what exactly is at stake here.

So while he uses all of the above methods, he takes it one step further. As the modern day politician might say, he hits them right in the pocketbook.

Washington has just given us a long list of considerations to keep in mind about why unity is so essential to American independence and liberty. However, he says here that all of those things he just got done listing are “greatly outweighed” by this one this – your immediate interest.

In this, Washington believes, all areas of the country will see “the most commanding motives” for doing all we can to guard and preserve America’s unity. The classic “what’s in it for me” argument.

In the next rather lengthy paragraph, Washington outlines exactly how each section of the country depends on the other sections of the country. The North, the South, the East, the new frontier of the West, all of them have immediate interests that are best served by America staying united.

It is interesting how much Washington stresses the need for unity. It gives you a peek inside of his mind and where his thoughts apparently where at the time. True, America had technically been a country since 1776 and under a united Constitution since 1787, however, there was obviously still some trepidation in the hearts and minds of America’s first president. He obviously had great concern over whether or not that union would last.

Washington’s ideal for his new country was that it would become an “indissoluble community of interest”. Indissoluble meaning that nothing could break it apart. And that community of interest meaning that we are all in this together. What helps one helps the other and what hurts one hurts the other.

Hit ’em In the Pocketbook

When I think of America’s Founding Fathers, it can be tempting to see them as these almost superhuman beings that has such eloquence and idealism. And while in many ways this is true, I think the thrust of Washington’s argument shows a practical side of our Founders.

One of the best motivations for people of all kinds is financial. And as you may have heard, people will do more and go further to avoid loss or pain than they will go to get something or find pleasure.

When you think about it this way, Washington’s argument seems almost a little…crass (if I can say that about George Washington!). Where is the eloquence and idealism is appealing to people’s base drives and desires?

Eloquence and idealism look and sound great on paper. However, when the rubber meets the road, a dash of practicality is required in order for anything to actually happen, in order for change to actually take place.

Even though Washington’s argument for unity was extremely practical and appears in some ways less eloquent and less idealistic, if you look closely, you’ll see that Washington never once in this argument compromised his principles.

For Washington, the ends (unity for America) did not justify the means (a practical argument). Honestly and integrity are still integral to his entire argument. He is not misleading anyone by what he is saying. Rather, he is putting the need for unity in practical terms that we can feel and understand.

Today

So, the pocketbook argument is nothing new. George Washington gave us a tremendous example of how it can be made convincingly while maintaining your principles and integrity.

Today however, we see this argument being made with less than honest intentions and often less than factual information. Also, instead of the motivation being an “indissoluble community of interest”, too often we see the motivation being that of greed and personal gain at the expense of others.

Next time you are in an argument, I encourage you to remember Washington’s example here. Yes, we ought to appeal to a person’s emotions, their better nature, their patriotism, their sense of morality and duty. However, remember that at the end of the day, even if they do not consciously realize it, the real question they will want answered is “what’s in it for me?”

It is up to us to answer that question honestly, and with integrity. The other arguments have their place, but if they never convince a soul to join your cause, then you may want to reconsider your methods.

Jonathan Paine
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