In the book I am writing on Identity-Based Behavior, I talk about James Otis.
What? You’ve never heard of James Otis. I had not either.
Otis was an attorney in Boston and had a role to play in this country’s independence. Otis was an interesting fellow. He was bipolar and always believed he would be killed by lightning. He was actually struck by lightning twice. I’m not sure if the belief he would be killed by lightning came before or after the first strike. However, on May 23, 1783, he was struck by lightning for the second time and it killed him.
22 years before that shocking event, he argued against the Writs of Assistance while standing before the Superior Court of Massachusetts. You may recall that the Writs of Assistance were supposed to allow British officers to conduct warrant-less searches of homes and seize whatever they felt was contraband. Otis, who was serving as the Advocate-General at the time, was supposed to argue for the Writs of Assistance. He chose not to.
Instead, Otis argued against the Writs of Assistance on behalf of merchants in Boston. He had very quickly exchanged his role of someone serving British rule to someone against it. His ability to transition roles created an in-group with Boston merchants and resulted in an argument in front of the court. That argument, according to founding father and US President John Adams, planted the seeds of revolution.
Otis’ argument is credited with two very famous ideas. First, he introduced the idea of “no taxation without representation.” Second, he argued that “a man’s house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle.” This idea of right to privacy in your home is a guiding constitutional right to this day, protecting everyone from warrant-less intrusion.
Otis’ speech followed a framework that we can use today. He told everyone the current state of affairs, he told them the problems they were all facing as a group, and then he created a picture of what could be. In short, Otis said, “this is how it is, these are the issues, and this is what we can accomplish.” Otis used passion, stories, and vision-casting to impact an entire group of people.
He also showed us how we can galvanize a group of people behind a goal. An overarching goal like the vision of an independent nation painted by Otis, can get individuals to work together as a group and can get diverse groups to collaborate. Groups that do not normally work together can join forces in order to solve a problem that plagues them all.
To hear more about James Otis and using goals to collaborate, please listen to this episode of the Crucial Talks Podcast: