We are all gullible at times. Some of us are more prone to gullibility than others. When I was a consumer protection investigator, I had a chance to see a lot of people’s gullibility used against them by manipulative con artists. The gullibility of individuals had nothing to do with socioeconomic background, race, sex, intelligence, or education.
What all gullible people seem to have in common is their lack of trusting their own inner truth and wisdom. Since leaving law enforcement, my exploration of “gullibility dynamics” has extended beyond the examination of people as consumers. Gullibility can be played out in any arena, if we choose to play the push-pull “Game of Manipulation/Gullibility. ” I see “gullibility dynamics” being played in all arenas of life, whether it is in politics, business, spiritual communities or in love relationships. Manipulators are always ready to cash in on anyone’s trusting behavior, no matter what their personal perspective or philosophical persuasion. To manipulators, gullible people are all wearing flashing neon signs. “Take me, I’m yours. Have your way with me.”
What makes us gullible? We override our innate wisdom. We either rely on our reasoning ability and ignore our intuition, or we act on intuition without thinking things clearly through. Our intuition and reasoning are out of balance.
A few of the classic ways when we’re gullible we keep our intuition and reasoning out of balance:
- We see things in categories of black and white.
People and things are seen as good and evil, light and dark, angelic and sinister. Viewing things in this way slots situations and people into artificial categories. It denies the truth that all people contain capacity of both “good” and “evil” thoughts, angelic and sinister behavior. Situations can be seen from many perspectives. There are no right or wrong ways to view reality. Categorizing interferes with integrating the duality within each of us and all of life.
- We have a need to “blame” other or ourselves.
When we are gullible we may blame others saying the cause of our victimization is outside us. Blame can be placed on “evil personified,” supernatural causes outside our control, alien beings, or just bad energy around us.
We also may blame ourselves. Self-blame creates a heavy energy burden which simply shames us. Our energy gets so tied up in berating ourselves that we have little left to focus on the learning from our gullibility and moving on. All blame, whether focused at others or the self, indicates that there is denial of truth. When blame is present, we can be sure that internal and external realities are not yet in balance.
- We believe power is outside of us.
When we act gullible, we may think that if we read the right book, choose another partner, or obtain enough education we will finally feel powerful. We may see power as something that comes from the outside and is bestowed upon us. We keep feeling like our power is a carrot at the end of a stick. It always seems just outside our reach. We fail to realize that our power is already within us. All we have to do is claim it. There are many useful tools which assist us in accessing our power. But the tools need be seen for what they are. They should not be confused with the source of the power, which lies within us.
- We believe that there is one path for everyone to follow.
What many people do from any philosophical, spiritual, or political perspective is to mistake the messenger for the message. We may set someone on a pedestal as an all knowing guru who does not have human flaws. When our intuition and reasoning are in balance, we take the pieces of what someone else says that fit for us and throw out the rest. If we see our philosophy identically matches anyone else’s, it should be a “red flag” that we may not be thinking for ourselves. Our truth is uniquely ours and by nature does not exactly coincide with anyone else’s.
Knowing which parts of other people’s philosophies fit our truth calls for internal discretion. Developing discretion can be like sorting the laundry. We can have three piles labeled “Keep ‘Em,” “Toss ‘Em,” and “Question ‘Em.”
- We look for answers outside of ourselves.
This goes hand-in-hand with believing that others have “the truth.” The reality is that no one knows “the answers.” We are all making this life up as we go. Others may have thought about an aspect we have not explored. But their understanding of life only serves as a catalyst for our self-discovery. We ultimately are the ones who have to recognize our own answers to live from our individual truth.
- We want instant cures and easy answers.
Transformation only takes an instant. But as adults we must be willing to do whatever preparation is necessary internally to allow the transformation to occur. Many who offer us shortcuts are simply manipulating the childlike part of us that wants to be taken care of. We are well-served to evaluate offerings to pour magic on top of our shaky foundation. If that’s the offer, we will have no lasting cure or answer. Remember the old commonsense adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
- We overlook leaps of logic that go from the plausible to the unbelievable.
People may say something which starts out to make sense. So we buy into what they say. Then they say something outrageous. Without our reasoning fully functioning, we may follow them down their path of unbelievability without even realizing what we have done. If questioned, manipulators may say that we need to make a leap of faith to follow their reasoning. What they may be really asking us to do is take a leap into absurdity.
- We want to believe others can assure our future.
No one knows what the future holds for anyone. We may predict and look at likely odds but anything we do is a guess, because the future is not in our human control. If we are scared about what the future will bring to us, we are likely to believe others who promise to make our future secure. If we are gullible, we want to believe that the uncontrollable can be controlled. We will put our future in the hands of a manipulator rather than take our own chances.
Wisdom is the power of judging rightly and following the prudent course of action, based on knowledge, experience, and understanding. Wisdom implies becoming an astute observer of human nature. The wise person clearly sees situations and people as they truly are, not as they present themselves. To view others and ourselves clearly, means that we can trust again. But now we are trusting our own knowledge, rather than what others tell us.
Wisdom requires reclaiming our straight-line connection to our own truth. And it also requires reconnecting our intuition and reasoning. Once we have our own connection firmly reestablished, no one will be able to manipulate us by offering to step in and make that connection for us.
Adapted from original article by Marion Moss (Hubbard, Ph.D.)
Published August 1992 in The New Times, Seattle, WA