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Churchill and the Salt Cellar

 

Analysis > Churchill and the Salt Cellar

 

Story

One day as a London dinner for foreign dignities drew to a close, Winston Churchill spotted one of the visitors pocketing a valuable antique salt cellar from the dinner table. Quick as a whistle, he picked up the matching pepper pot and put it in his own pocket.

Sidling up to the culprit, he surreptitiously pulled out and showed his pepper pot. "I think they've spotted us," he said, anxiously, "I guess we'd better put them back."

Analysis

What would you do in this situation? Many would do nothing, for fear of causing embarrassment and creating an 'international incident'. Some would call security, though this could lead to a very public and embarrassing upset. Others would contact the person later, though this could well result in denial and more problems.

Winston Churchill, the famous British second world war prime minister was also a man of great character. A key principle he used here was one of similarity. By not just saying but showing 'I am like you', he created a bond between himself and the thief that formed the basis for the subsequent suggestion.

The second part of the action, indicating they had been spotted, put the rationale for returning the silver outside of both himself or the thief, thereby preventing any argument. Some unnamed authority or security person was the oppressor on 'the other side' and Churchill and the visitor were the partners in crime who had to act quickly. And in the confusion Churchill, having seized the initiative suggested an effective course of action that would neutralize any confrontation.

Of course the thief would know that this was a game, and Churchill would know they knew this too. But both also knew that Churchill was offering a relatively dignified way out without revealing the crime to a wider audience. Also, by talking about 'being spotted' Churchill intimated that the person could be detained, thereby making a veiled threat, adding to the pressure to return the item.

See also

Similarity principle, Confusion principle

 

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