“The person who is unable to seduce people, is not able to save them either.“Søren Kierkegaard
Source: The Quotable Kierkegaard edited by Gordon Marino, p.32. Appropriated from Kierkegaard’s Journals and Notebooks, Bruce H. Kirmmse, General Editor. Vols.1-6. Princeton University Press, 2007-12.
Kierkegaard justifies seduction as a means to an end, if that end is saving another human being. In order to save others, K basically says we must be able to “sell” them on the idea that they can be saved. I’m reminded of the stereotypical aggressive car salesman who enthusiastically lays out the features of his product. He doesn’t necessarily lie to potential buyers, but he also doesn’t necessarily highlight any of the shortcomings his product may have. The car salesman is a seducer, and so apparently should we be, according to K, if we are to effect change in an individual who needs saving. When people reach a point in their lives when they need saving, they often have already long become inflexible and complacent to the idea of change. Their way of being has become so sedimented, that simply telling them that their way is wrong is ineffective and may actually work to cause them to become even more averse to change. Why? Why doesn’t just telling a person to change or to stop engaging in maladaptive behavior work?
When we act in such a way, we effectively disregard and invalidate the experience of the other. This is a kind of violence that we perpetrate on others when we tell them how they should be or should behave or how they should simply “get over” whatever ails them. In such moments, we invalidate the individual’s uniqueness and ultimate mystery of his or her own Being. We suggest that we are all the same, that we know more about them than they do. But we are not the same. This is the gist of narcissistic violence: acting on our belief that we know what is best for the other. Most people who have been suffering for quite a long time, fortunately, if they are at a place of wisdom in their lives, will not be affected by such violence. A request to “just get over it” will go in one ear and out the other, but still they will not have been saved. For others, the less wise among us (the youth, for example) to be told the same thing could be crippling. They will internalize the idea that they are weak for not simply being able to “just move on” as they have been prescribed by the narcissistic other. The suffering they have been experiencing, from which they need saving, will become worse.
And this brings us back to Kierkegaard’s suggestion that only the one skilled in the art of seduction is capable of saving people. Seduction is a process; it is not the quick fix of an empty meme which tells us to “choose happiness.” To seduce someone who needs saving we must be with that person with all of our own being, just as that car salesman throws all of his own being into the act of selling cars. We must sell the benefits of change as if they were actual attainable luxuries. Our language must be accurate, reflect the notion of certainty, that there is indeed a better way.
I do have a question for Kierkegaard, however. Was he suggesting that seduction is the only requirement for saving an individual? Honestly, I don’t believe this is the case, but since I do not have any context for this quote, I can’t be sure. I would like to believe that K sees seduction merely as a starting point for saving an individual, or as an attention-getter of sorts. If we can effectively gain the attention of the one we wish to save, then we are in a good place to actually maintain that attention and effect change. What I’m saying is that I believe there is a second step to the process of saving someone, a step that follows the seduction K speaks of. That step is honesty about the process of change. It would be akin to the car salesman sharing the truth about the shortcomings of the product he is selling. A few shortcomings of change are that change is not easy, that it will take practice, and that the one who suffers will fail from time to time. And when we are honest about the imperfect nature of this process, our honesty is recognized in the other. This honesty leads to trust. If the other feels he or she can trust us, then he or she is more likely to act on taking the necessary steps to save him or herself. This way thus differs significantly from that of those who perpetrate narcissistic violence. The narcissist explains no process of change, but only the change itself. He only panders to the individual, employing one-liners and memetic language, espousing the ease with which the individual can free him or herself from suffering with a mere snap of the fingers. Yet, such simple and brief language lacks substance, just as do those who employ it. So ultimately, I would say some initial seduction followed up with the truth of what it may actually take to change may be the best way to effect change in the other.