I’ve greatly enjoyed the discussion, both by co-blogger Bryan Caplan and by the commenters, about Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I pulled the book off the web but haven’t read it.

The discussion, though, motivates me to tell my story about when and why I decided quite deliberately to become friendly to everyone I met. I’ve rarely departed from that decision and it has served me well.

I think I was generally friendly to people when I was young. But sometimes when I was friendly, people made fun of me or were in some other way nasty, and I became a little more guarded. The friendliness typically followed with most people but it wasn’t my default setting going in.

That changed in the spring of 1972, when I was at the University of Western Ontario, taking a year of advanced undergrad and one graduate course in economics. There was a woman in my class named Fran who was beautiful, charming, smart, and friendly. Two of my friends and I had a crush on her. We knew it would go nowhere, though, because she made clear early in the friendship that her fiancé, who was at the University of Toronto, was going to marry her that summer.

During one of his breaks at the U. of T., Charlie, her fiancé, came out to see her and she wanted to introduce him to her friends. So she, two of my guy friends, Charlie, and I went to lunch. He was the friendliest guy. He was so friendly that I thought he was just dumb. So, jealous that he “got the girl,” my friends and I looked for ways of outperforming him intellectually. He was an econ major in his last year and when we started talking about Hayek‘s case against socialism, he didn’t know what we were talking about. We felt superior to him; he got the girl but we were smarter and, besides, why that dumb grin on his face the whole time we were besting him intellectually?

About an hour later I ran into one of the guys in the library and we got talking about how mentally deficient Charlie was. I don’t think either of us really believed it. The guy even made a comment that he must make up for it by being really good in bed. I guffawed. And then a moment of honesty. “Funny thing, though,” I said, “I really liked him. I liked his friendliness and openness.”

I lived in a small apartment on my own and that evening I sat there thinking hard about how I wanted to be. I looked back and realized that in the rare cases where being friendly from the getgo got people being a**holes to me the way we had been to Charlie, I could handle it. So I just decided to be that way. And I have done so.

By the way, I got invited to their wedding in Toronto that summer and Charlie and I became friends. (At their wedding, I did the first drinking I had ever done: 3 whisky sours.) He and Fran, his girl friend, went on to become lawyers and he is one of the most successful lawyers in Toronto. And oh, by the way, he’s quite smart.