“It is easier to fool a man than to convince him he has been fooled.”
– Mark Twain
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Mark Twain, a man of the 1800’s, came of age in the Civil War years, a time of great upheaval. With this keen observation, he offers a pathway to a simple answer to a perplexing question heard frequently these days: “HOW can THEY believe THAT?”
Beliefs form slowly, over time, borne of what we hear, see, read, are taught . . . what we experience. Like steel beams within buildings, they give us support – an ability to stand strong – in a wobbly world. Our beliefs are comforting, and are solidified by those we interact with daily, who confirm for us that our beliefs are correct, proper, true. And it is those who share our beliefs who we come to trust in a deep, central, safe way.
That is what membership and participation in religious organizations provides to many. In congregate worship we find solace, comfort, peace, trust. “They would never fool me, not him, not her, not them.”
People whose world is shaken – due perhaps to loss of job, marriage, family, friendship or other human connection – are left with shaken, weakened beliefs, as well. They yearn to once again trust. When such a “crack in confidence” takes place, we tend to seek the shelter of other explanations, other connections, other beliefs, to provide that ever-present need for support, and trust. In such times, vulnerabilities abound; being “fooled” is not uncommon when one is particularly unsteady. In these times, new trust is sought, and often found.
Those who seek new trust in times of personal crisis sometimes make mistakes. As Twain points out, they will likely resist anything that threatens their newfound “trust,” as in “You have been fooled.” If there is any way at all to get over, under or around those new walls and those newly blocked doors, the only “key” is to offer and present other, comforting, healing trust.
Beliefs are neither easily challenged nor forcibly reshaped. When a person’s beliefs will almost inevitably push back, just as forcibly, if not more so. In fact, if openly challenged, beliefs may urgently transform – seeking protection – to the extreme, tending toward the darnedest, craziest thoughts and elements, even violent, hateful things. “They are trying to take away my beliefs; that makes me angry. I must fight back.”
The crucial word to bear in mind is “trust” and to consider its place in a person’s life. Do you have any desire to convince someone they are on the wrong track? It is not likely to succeed through rational argument, criticism, demand, or expressions of concern or disappointment, but rather through alternative trust. Through being a person to them of “trustful” listening, sincere expression of care, demonstration of continuing concern, that you can do so.
It is one person at a time, one deed at a time, even one smile at a time. Just like holding a door open for someone who is overloaded with all the weighty packages their arms can carry, that they may slowly grow open to consider different, less rigid, less “crazy” even hateful beliefs in their world and those with whom they share it. But it comes slowly, as beliefs always do.
So, it seems, perhaps the better question to ask ourselves is “HOW can WE NOT do THAT FOR THEM?” If it is true that it is easier to fool a man than to convince him he has been fooled, then demonstrations and acts that instill, encourage and foster “alternative trust” is how it can be done.
Imagine, just for the moment, that a TV News channel ran true and praiseworthy stories of government agencies actually helping people, corporations actually standing by their products with purported “customer service,” and employers standing by their promises with honesty and gratitude. If the ultra-wealthy were shown to pay their honestly-due taxes, and go to jail for the same transgressions as others. Universal, equitable and certain accountability breeds trust. Just imagine. But it takes time, courage and faith.
This Mark Twain insight was shared with us recently by a blogsite reader who asked to remain entirely anonymous. Whoever you are, and wherever you are, we thank you for your gift, and your expression of trust.
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