The Power of Persuasion and Influence: Some Whackadoodle advice regarding True Believers versus Chronic Deceivers; how to spot them and how to handle them. If you have entered this story in the middle, click here for the table of contents.
When I got back, she was talking on her cell phone. “Got to go,” she mumbled into it as soon as she saw me. “I’ll call you when I’m through.”
“Everything okay?” I asked, taking my seat across from her.
“Yeah, no problems” she said and shoved away her phone. I waited while she got back into her note taking position. “Okay, I am ready when you are. So teach me how to deal with people who might have questionable, or insincere motives.”
“Well, I suppose we should start with step one,” I said nearly laughing again at her impatience. “Understand the nature of deception. It’s easy to make up a lie, pass on a rumor, speculate about facts, defame a reputation. However, discovering the truth is not easy. It takes time. It takes digging and thought. It takes fact checking and multiple sources. It takes access to witnesses and accurate information. A lie can multiply quickly and spread across the world before the truth has the time to catch up. And once a lie is out there, it’s incredibly hard to clean up.” I waited while she jotted down a few notes before looking up again.
“Okay, step two,” I went on. “Choose your battles wisely. You will never be able to debunk every lie. You will never be able to influence every mind. People tend to cling to their belief systems like leeches on a dog, so determine early whether or not all your tenacity, preparation, strategy, and patience is going to be a wise investment of your time and energy. How important is changing this mind going to be in your overall strategy in life?” Her pen was working overtime, so I pause again to let her catch up.
“Ready for step three?” I asked when she paused to shake out her hand. She nodded mutely, and I continued. “Should you decide your investment is worth the price of all your work, you’ll need to build your case. You can’t debunk a lie unless you can defend the truth, so you’re going to need evidence.”
“What kind of evidence?” she asked without looking up, pen still moving.
“Well,” I considered. “Suppose someone keeps insisting that former President Drumpf had every right to keep Presidential documents at Mar-a-logo because of the Presidential Records Act. Well, if you want to refute that statement, you had better have the actual Act bookmarked on your phone, so you can pull it up and offer to read it with them. You can ask them where in the document it says that Presidential records belong to the former President, when the Act clearly states, ‘The United States shall reserve and retain complete ownership, possession, and control of Presidential records; and such records shall be administered in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.‘”
She looked up at last, saying, “So the kind of evidence that could hold up in court?”
“Pretty much,” I agreed. “In fact, that’s a good way of thinking about it.”
“As if you’re going to court,” I said, then added. “Where making an accusation without evidence will get your case tossed out on lack of merit. Where if you argue conjecture rather propositions, your arguments gets stricken from the record.”
“So if you have no evidence to back up your understanding of the truth, you what? Simply let the matter go?”
“Sometimes you retreat from battle, so you can fight another day.”
“Hum,” she grunted and jotted something down. Looking up, she informed me, “I’m ready for step four.”
“Okay, step four. You should determine whether you are dealing with a true believer or a chronic deceiver because doing so will determine your step five.”
“So you treat them differently depending on if they believe the lies, or if they don’t believe the lies?” she asked to clarify.
“Absolutely,” I confirmed. “True believers and chronic deceivers have very different motivations. True believers generally just want to pass on the truth as they see it. They get frustrated when people don’t take them seriously. They worry about others being deceived by hidden forces and gullible naysayers. Moreover, when a true believer become radicalized, they can become accepting of and prone violence and threats. This is especially true if their cult leaders have taught them that making threats and knocking heads together is perfectly acceptable behavior. On the other hand, Chronic deceivers know that they’re lying, but they don’t see lying as wrong. They see lying as a survival strategy, and a way of life. In many cases, they believe the only way to succeed in life is to lie, and that only suckers, wimps, and losers don’t lie. They even believe that their ability to deceive without getting caught show how strong and clever they are.” I paused for a breath before concluding. “When considering true believers versus chronic deceivers, you need to recognize they have extremely different motives and belief systems.”
“You know,” she looked up from her notes suddenly. “That reminds me of this survey I heard about recently.”
“Who did the survey?” I asked without thinking.
“I can’t remember,” she confessed. “I was listening to one of those commentator shows my mom always watches. It was one of the commentators who mentioned it.”
“You know how I feel about uncited sources.” I warned.
“I know, I know,” she flapped her hands at me. “But he’s the one who didn’t cite the source, not me. And it was really interesting. One of the questions on the survey was, ‘Who would you most likely support in the 2024 election for president, Donald Trump or Joe Biden?‘”
“Oh, that is interesting,” I commented dryly.
“That’s not the interesting part,” she retorted. “The interesting part was the next question. They asked, ‘Which of the following statements best describes the world as you see it? A. The world is full of dangerous circumstances and untrustworthy people that we must be able to defends ourselves against. Or, B. The world is full of good people and amazing possibilities if only we learn to accept each other’s differences, communicate fully, and work together.‘” She looked at me expectantly.
“And…,” I prompted.
“The survey results showed that like 75% of Trump supporters chose option A, the world is scary and dangerous and we need tools to defend ourselves; while 75% of Biden supporters chose option B, the world would be perfect if we could just get along and work together.”
“Both results were 75%?” I raised my eyebrows.
“I said, ‘like 75%,” as in about 75%,” she said in defense. “But don’t you think it’s interesting that such an overwhelming number of people have such radically different way of seeing the world?”
“Interesting, but not surprising,” I nodded. “And perhaps something to consider when dealing with those deeply held beliefs of the true believers.”
“How do you mean?”
“Step five for the true believer,” I smiled. “Do not attack their beliefs directly because that will only make them consider you as one of the people against them. It will make them defensive, and destroy any influence or rapport you may have with them. In other words, you never tell a cult follower that they are living in a cult, and you never bad talk the cult leader. If you do, you become one of the many thousands who simply don’t understand and who are bent on destroying their cult. Do you see?”
She nodded soberly. “So you basically treat true believers like you would treat a cult follower, even if they are not in a cult.”
“What is a cult if not a group of people blindly believing in something or someone without question?”
“I suppose that’s one definition,” she conceded. “But if you don’t attack their beliefs directly, do you attack them indirectly?”
“I prefer the word expand to attack,” I told her. “Much less likely to invoke hostility; but yes, you indirectly introduce them to ideas that expand their beliefs. If they believe that the LGBTQ+ community is dangerous and to be feared, you invite them over to your best friends house, and after they tell you how great it was to meet your friend, you tell them, ‘I’m so glad you enjoyed yourself. I was afraid that you would be uncomfortable meeting a gay man.’ Or, if you have some ten year old tell you that she doesn’t want to join your culture club because her grandmother says that all the bad people come from Africa, you remind her, ‘But Mr. Larry is black. He’s good isn’t he? And I thought you liked Obama. Is Obama a bad man?'”
“Is Mister Larry real?” she asked, eyes narrowed.
“Yes. He’s black, gay, and the best afterschool administrator I ever had the pleasure of working with.”
She heaved a sigh. “Sound like expanding a mind takes a long time.”
“Didn’t I warn you that confronting deception takes a lot of tenacity, preparation, strategy, and most of all patience? In the end, true believers will only leave their cults when they start questioning and doubting their own cult leaders. All you can do is lead them to the questions. Only they can change their minds. Of course it also help to get them away from their cult as much as possible,” I added with a shrug. “Cult followers tend to reinforce each others beliefs, so you want to open up their world as much as possible to get them less focused on fear and anger.”
“What if they bring up something their cult believes, but you know is false?” she asked abruptly.
“Oh then, you need to defend the truth,” I assured her. “Usually, people bring up their beliefs either because they want you to agree with them or because they’re hoping to convert you. You shouldn’t to do either. Instead, you should defend your truth with specific evidence. They say that the 20/20 election was stolen. You point out that over sixty courts threw out all the election fraud cases for lack of merit and evidence. They inform you that the courts are all corrupt. You say, ‘I find it hard to believe that conservative Judge Stephanos Bibas is corrupt or bias. Have you see his ruling, or followed the case?'”
“I suppose they wouldn’t have much to say about that,” she suddenly laughed.
“A question about specific evidence tends to get people a bit befuddled when they have yet to find the answer. Your goal is to get them seeking answers outside of the cult. And try to stay patient. As I point out in rule two, eliminating a belief is nearly impossible, but expanding a belief can be surprisingly easy.”
She simply nodded quietly, then asked, “So does that take care of true believers?”
“I suppose so,” I replied.
“Then what is step five for a chronic deceiver?”
“Ah,” I began. “Step five for a chronic deceiver is to understand their world view. Chronic deceivers don’t believe that lying is bad. It’s getting caught in the lie that’s bad. They look at lying as a success strategy, and getting away with the lie just proves how clever they are.”
“Makes sense,” she mumbled, her pen moving again.
“Of course there are degrees within the chronic deceiver matrix,” I felt forced to add. “You have those who lie to stay out of trouble, or to avoid ratting on a colleague. There are those who avoid the truth by staying silent, or by using the one of the many D’s of deception: they discredit an authority; they deny any knowledge; they deflect attention; they distract the listener; they defame their accuser; they delegitimize institutions; they dehumanize their adversaries; they dodge your questions, and they deceive one another. This type of deceiver may not start the deception, but they do nothing to stop it. On the other hand, it’s the truly chronic deceivers who start the lies, and they unusually do it to simply to get what they want, or get away with something that others might consider wrong. Sometimes they throw our accusations without evidence just to make their competition look bad.”
“What do you suppose they think their lying will get them?”
“Oh, it varies. Sometimes money. Sometime power. Sometimes influence. Sometimes a it’s just about an image they have of themselves. Sometimes it’s all four combined. But mostly, they just want you to believe them and nothing else, not even your own eyes.”
We sat in silence for a while, when I felt compelled to add something. “There’s another thing that chronic deceivers tends to do. They like to get ahead of a story, so that you hear their version first. I remember this one time at my after school program, one of my regulars came into class demanding that I do something about these four kids that she’s seen shop lifting from the local store. I asked my assistant to take over, while I went into my office with her to get the whole story. I thanked her, and told her that I would take care of it. Pretty soon the other kids started coming in. One by one, I took each of the accused kids into my office to slowly pull out their versions. Come to find out that all four eventually placed the original accuser at the scene of the crime. They said that she had dared them to do it, and had actually taken a cut of their spoils.”
“Why do you think she told you first?” she asked confused. “I mean, you might not have found out anything if she hadn’t brought it to your attention.”
“I think that she wanted me to hear her version before I heard anything from someone else. Like I said, chronic deceivers often do that because the versions we hear first can’t help but shape how we perceive any other versions. Chronic deceivers thrive in chaos and uncertainty.”
“On man, I hope you have a step six for dealing with them.”
“Actually, I have a step six, a step seven, and a step eight,” I assured her. “But I’m not sure how you’re going to feel about them.”
“That’s okay, let’s hear them,” she replied.
“Step six: Learn to spot their fallacies, their deflections, their denials, and their distractions. Become familiar with the fallacies they may use to make their lies more palatable.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re telling me to review my notes on those lecture we had about Teaching Logic in a Whackadoodle World,” she accused.
“You bet I am,” I concurred. “Why else do you think I made teaching you about logical fallacies the main focus of our first few lessons together? So you could forget everything?”
“Okay, fine,” she sighed. “What’s step six?”
“Catch them in their deception, call their lies out, but don’t call them lairs.”
She shook her head. “I still don’t understand why it’s bad to call liars liars,” she insisted.
I gave a huge sigh, and explained for what felt like the hundredth time, “Because if you call them liars, you will just end up defending yourself. They will use your attack as a chance to distract from the original lie by telling people how outrageous and nasty you are calling them names. You don’t want to give them a chance to deflect. Instead, you call out the lie by defending the truth. That being said, what tools do you think that you might need to defend the truth?”
“Let me guess,” she said dryly. “Specific and irrefutable evidence that disproves the lie while providing the truth. To do that, I need to be well informed and extremely prepared. I might have to do some research and fact citing, so I’d better chose my battles wisely.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” I grinned.
“Hum,” she complained. “I thought there would be more to it.”
“Well maybe if I give you an example, you might see how well it can work,” I suggested. “The other day, I was watching a televised town hall for one of the presidential candidates, when a young man from the local high school got up to ask a simple yes-or-no question. ‘Sir, do you believe that the 20/20 election was filled with fraud and stolen from the former president?’ Well, the candidate didn’t dare offend anyone there by answering directly, so he dodged the question. He began pontificating about the importance of free and fair elections, and how people need to be able to believe in election integrity, which is something that everyone pretty much agrees with. It was a non-answer used to hide the truth. Something worth pointing out by a truth defender.”
“How would you point it out?”
“Well if I were in the room, I might ask my own question. Something like, ‘Excuse me sir, but a minute ago, that young man asked a simple yes-or-no question. Do you believe that the 20/20 election was filled with fraud and stolen from the former President? You didn’t really give him a solid answer, and I think he deserves one, don’t you?’ I’d try to point out the dodge, and hold him to the original question.”
“And if you weren’t in the room?”
“Then I’d point out the dodge to anyone watching the telecast with me. I might even add the incident to an article I am writing. I’d probably also point out that anyone afraid to answer a simple yes-or-no question is not somebody I’d trust with the Presidency.”
“Right,” she nodded. “I think that I’m ready for step seven. Would you like a drum roll?”
“Always,” I said, and watched as she merrily drummed on the table in front of her. “Okay, that’s enough,” I eventually told her. “Step seven is actually a warning. Nobody likes being caught spreading deceit, so don’t expect them to instantly admit their guilt and make everything all right. Sometimes the best outcome is that they stop trying to deceive you. However sometimes, they might try to put you in you place. Whenever that’s the case, I suggest that you don’t engage.”
She looked up startle. “What! Do you mean just walk away?”
“No, I mean don’t let them draw you into some pissing contest. You’ve told them what you know. You have told them how to verify the information, so the rest is up to them. If you start trying to discredit their deflections, you won’t win. They’ll just talk right over you without hearing a word you say.”
“So basically, ‘When they go low, you go high,‘” she quoted the former first lady sarcastically.
“No, I am saying, ‘When they go low, you stay smart.’ You know the principles of communication and understanding. If they start showing red or yellow body language, you know they’re not listening to you, so why bother talking. It’s just a waste of your time and energy. More than that, you’d be feeding into their attempt to cloud the issue. Remember, chaos and confusion are their friends.”
“So I just let them burn themselves out until I see green body language again?” she asked with a touch of resignation.
“Unless you can think of something better,” I shrugged. “Besides, when you think about it, no truly chronic deceiver will ever admit defeat. They will just wrap themselves up in more lies until they start to look foolish. And they will only stop living in lies when those lies stop working for them. Sometimes, the best you can do is ensure that those lies don’t get passed on as truth.”
“Kind of depressing,” she confessed.
“Well, look on the bright side,” I smiled softly. “Once they know that you’re onto their tricks, they might think twice about using those tricks on you again.”
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- Navigating Life in a Whackadoodle World
- Finding Sense in a Whackadoodle World
- Teaching Logic in a Whackadoodle World
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