One of the very few specific things I remember from my college days was a psychological principle called "negative persuasion." It was so instantly and experientially true that I've never forgotten it.
Professor Holland explained it, saying, "When you forbid a child, or even an adult, to do a certain thing -- even if he never thought of doing it -- you will create a desire in that person to do it."
He explained, "Let's say you're a young mama, shelling peas into a bowl. Your infant child is playing on the floor in front of you, when the phone rings. You have to put the peas and bowl on the floor to answer the phone, and you sternly tell your child not to put a pea in his nose while you're gone." Dr. Holland paused, and smiled. We students were laughing already before he finished, "When you come back from the phone you can bet your bottom dollar your kid will have a nose full of peas!"
That's negative persuasion.
That's exactly what the same-sex marriage activists have done in raising hell over some innocuous, harmless statements made recently by Dan T. Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, the popular and very successful fast-food chain. With the full support of most media, they've created a tempest in a chicken coop, protesting not only his personal and corporate support of traditional marriage, but also the family's generous contributions to pro-life and pro-marriage causes.
While Mike Huckabee and others have urged Americans to support the company against these unwarranted attacks, calling for a nationwide "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" on Wednesday, the homosexual activists have proposed a "kiss-in" demonstration Friday in front of (or even in, if they can manage it) the chicken sandwich stores. Same-sex couples will be engaging in any and every display they can think of, creating an "in your face" opposition designed to attract maximum media coverage.
Is this really a good tactic, even to achieve the obvious goal of the activists? What is the goal, actually? Do they want to put Chick-fil-A out of business? Three leftist mayors, including Rahm Emanuel in Chicago and the mayor of Boston, instantly said, in effect, "You're not welcome here. You don't reflect this city's values." In other words, "Shut your stores down and leave." Mr. Emanuel soon walked his statement back somewhat, when somebody in his circle must have reminded him, "but mayor, people in Chicago love this outfit, their chicken sandwiches are very popular, and this might put you in a bad light."
The whole thing has taken on the same negative image of the Occupy demonstrations, with angry, disruptive groups waving signs and shouting slogans, and a very distasteful kiss-in show, designed to turn customers away and damage the business. This is a classic example of the Saul Alinsky leftist (some say communist) method: seizing on some real or perceived grievance and organizing "spontaneous uprisings" to gain a political objective.
But guess what? The negative persuasion principle is working.
Chick-fil-A sales are experiencing a dramatic upturn. Countless people all over the country are asking, "What is this Chick-fil-A thing? I've heard of them but never tasted those sandwiches everybody raves about. Where's the closest one? I'd like to try it."
Is this what the protesters wanted? I don't think so.
I speak from personal experience, on several levels. One, I've known Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy and his admirable family for years, and participated in their many charitable causes. I've never known a more loving, generous man. Two, I love their food, and would go out of my way to frequent their shops even if I didn't know them.
And three, I just went to a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day event here on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Yes, there were angry protesters waving obscene and denigrating signs and partly blocking the way for crowds of people like me who came to buy sandwiches and express our support. The buyers far, far outnumbered the protesters, but it will be interesting to see if the media reports that accurately.
The camera crews converged on me, and I told them I'd "just popped in to buy lunch." But I also said I was quite surprised to encounter a pro-censorship rally. I knew this crowd had been pleading for "tolerance" for years, and had accomplished quite a lot. And I would have thought they'd be the first to extend tolerance, not hate, toward a kind man who had blessed more homosexuals in his 40 years in business than all of the protesters put together. He and his employees have served and fed them lovingly and well all these years, no questions asked, and I'd have thought they might give him an award -- not try to shut him down.
I guess they never heard of "negative persuasion."
Pat Boone is an entertainer and author of "Pat Boone's America: 50 Years" (Broadman/Holman, 2006).