Read LETTING THE CROWDS BE GOOD - CHAPTER V of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


The stage properties that go with a bully change as we grow older.  When one thinks of a bully, one usually sees a picture at once in one’s mind.  It is a big boy lording it over a little one, or getting him down and sitting on him.

Everybody recognizes what is going on immediately, pitches in nobly and beautifully, and licks the big boy.

The trouble with the bully in business has been that he is not so simple and easy to recognize.  He is apt to be more or less anonymous and impersonal, and it is harder to hit him in the right place.

But when one thinks of it perhaps this pleasant and inspiring duty is not so impracticable as it looks, and is presently to be attended to.

Any man who relies, in getting what he wants, on being big instead of being right, is a bully.

Modern business is done over a wide area, with thousands of persons looking on, and for a long time and with thousands of people coming back.  The man who relies on being big instead of being right, and who takes advantage of his position instead of his inherent superiority, is soon seen through.  His customers go over to the enemy.  A show of force or a hold-up works very well at the moment.  Being bigger may be more showy than being right, and it may down the Little Boy, but the Little Boy wins the crowd.

Business to-day consists in persuading crowds.

The Little Boy can prove he is right.  All the bully can prove is that he is bigger.

The Liar in Business is already going by.

Now it is the turn of the bully.

Not long ago a few advertisers in a big American city wanted unfairly low rates for advertisements and tried to use force with the newspapers.  Three or four of the biggest shops combined and gave notice that they would take their advertising away unless the rates came down.  After a little, they drew in a few other lines of business with them, and suddenly one morning five or six full pages of advertisements were withdrawn from every newspaper in the city.  The newspapers went on publishing all the news of the city except news as to what people could buy in department stores, and waited.  They made no counter-move of any kind, and said nothing and seven days slipped past.  They held to the claim that the service they performed in connecting the great stores with the people of the city was a real service, that it represented market value which could be proved and paid for.  They kept on for another week publishing for the people all the news of the city except the news as to how they could spend their money.  They wondered how long it would take the great shops with acres of things to sell to see how it would work not to let anybody know what the things were.

The great shops tried other ways of letting people know.  They tried handbills, a huge helpless patter of them over all the city.  They used billboards, and posted huge lists of items for people to stop and read in the streets, if they wanted to, while they rushed by.  For three whole weeks they held on tight to the idea that the newspapers were striking employees of department stores.  One would have thought that they would have seen that the newspapers were the representatives of the people-almost the homes of the people-and that it would pay to treat them respectfully.  One would have thought they would have seen that if they wanted space in the homes of the people-places at their very breakfast tables-space that the newspapers had earned and acquired there, they would have to pay their share of what it had cost the newspapers to get it.

One would have thought that the department shops would have seen that the more they could make the newspapers prosper, the more influence the newspapers would have in the homes of the people, and the more business they could get through them.  But it was not until the shopowners had come down and gazed day after day on the big, white, lonely floors of their shops that they saw the truth.  Crowds stayed away, and proved it to them.  Namely:  a store, if it uses a great newspaper, instead of having a few feet of show windows on a street for people to walk by, gets practically miles of show windows for people-in their own houses-sells its goods almost any morning to the people-to a whole city-before anybody gets up from breakfast-has its duties as well as its rights.

Of course, when the shopkeepers really saw that this was what the newspapers had been doing for them, they wanted to do what was right, and wanted to pay for it.  One would have thought, looking at it theoretically, that the department stores in any city would have imagination enough to see, without practically having to shut their stores up for three weeks, what advertising was worth.  But if great department stores do not have imagination to see what they would wish they had done in twenty years, in one year, or three weeks, and have to spell out the experience morning by morning and see what works, word by word, they do learn in the end that being right works, and that bullying does not.  Gradually the level or standard of right in business is bound to rise, until people have generally come to take the Golden Rule with the literalness and seriousness that the best and biggest men are already taking it.  Department stores that have the moral originality and imagination to guess what people would wish they had bought of them and what they would wish they had sold to them afterward are going to win.  Department stores that deal with their customers three or four years ahead are the ones that win first.