The challenge is to sort out the ducks from the decoys.
I told my friend it was going to rain tomorrow.
He believed me. Why shouldn't he?
Rain this time of year is common. I made my pronouncement in a serious, believable tone. Others at the table believed me as well.
Truth is, I hadn't seen or heard the weather forecast. Rather, I was making a point.
The human mind is easily fooled.
Worse, still, is the fact that our beliefs become our realities.
My friend believed it was going to rain. That became his reality.
Our vulnerability to believe has advanced no further than ducks falling for decoys. The critters believe the decoys are real and behave accordingly. Some become supper.
Think of 120 humans sitting in a movie theater as sitting ducks. The decoys are whatever message the movie producers present. When they tell us we are racists, some believe and that belief becomes their reality. It's no different from believing a bogus weather report.
• The power of suggestion
Our reality transcends our belief system. It also asserts itself in our memory.
Elizabeth Loftus is a psychology professor known for her court testimonies regarding eye witness testimonies.
In one notorious experiment, Loftus lined up 120 individuals who had visited Disneyland or Disney World. Their discussion included bogus ads the participants thought were real. They included images of Bugs Bunny. About one third of the participants recalled seeing Bugs Bunny at Disneyland and shaking his hand. Bugs Bunny, however, is a Warner Brothers character who has never made an appearance at Disneyland or Disney World.
Loftus proved that our sense of reality is so vulnerable that even our memories can be easily altered.
Of course, sometimes it actually does rain. Oft times the ducks in the pond actually are ducks. And racism actually does exist. The challenge is to sort out the ducks from the decoys; the sense from the nonsense. It's a task humans are ill-equipped to perform.
• Beliefs determine behavior
Cult leaders and mind manipulators, et al, have long understood the value of creating false realities.
The danger of adopting false beliefs -- or false realities -- is that human behavior is driven by our perception of reality. Suicide bombers act upon a false reality. When pagan cultists chucked virgins into volcanoes to appease angry gods, they were acting on false realities. When members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed suicide, they weren't transported to a space ship. They were dead. Their reality was wrong. There is a near-universal perception that white people are innately racist and people of color are our victims. That is our reality. We act on it. But is it true?
Again, false realities engender corresponding behavior. Sometimes that is good. Johnny behaves because his reality includes a naughty or nice list maintained by Santa Claus. Sometimes that is bad. Al-Qaeda members flew airliners into the World Trade Center based on their reality.
• Self defense
There are strategies we can use to free ourselves from believing and acting upon false realities.
• Acknowledge that everyone is susceptible to false realities, including self.
• Realize that self-delusion is normal. I've never met a cult member who knew he was a cult member.
• Admit the difference between belief and reality. Believing the world is round or flat has no bearing on its roundness or flatness. It is what it is regardless of what we believe.
• Ask which came first: The belief or the evidence. I'm surprised at how many religious groups offer courses titled "Why We Believe . . . " If you don't know why you believe what you believe, then why do you believe what you believe?
• Acknowledge the power of peer pressure. Social exclusion is a powerful mind-bending tool. Some folks would rather die than be labeled a 'racist' or 'xenophobe.' While racism and xenophobia are both immoral, the mere accusation hardly constitutes a legitimate validation.
• Be sensitive to confirmation bias. Be an unbiased referee, not a fan in the stands.
• Consider that no one thinks himself wrong. If he did, he would change his mind to become 'right.' Consider, also, that there are over 34,000 Christian denominations. They can't all be right.
• Be accountable. We each have thoughts in our heads and we have a responsibility to honestly ask ourselves how they got there and if they are accurate.
With Hollywood and academia struggling to control our minds, we have an obligation to resist. Resistance begins with the willingness to distinguish between ducks and decoys.
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