One of my most embarassing flaws is naïveté. I’ve had to expend a lot of effort to try to overcome it, but the tendency towards credulity remains as a paradigm in my thinking. Ironically, this gullibility also provides the ground for my skepticism.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a big part of me has believed in the basic goodness of humanity. The actions of a few big-hearted people who selflessly aid poor people, empower minorities, and those who tirelessly work to preserve the environment keep me from becoming cynical and losing my naïve nature altogether.
My friend, Jorge, sussed out my credulous nature because he also has this personality flaw. It is our mutual recognition of each others’ gullibility that cements our friendship. This is not a case of the “blind leading the blind”. Instead, we remind each other to carefully examine outrageous claims made by our peers and by authority figures.
Recently, Jorge suggested that I re-read The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. He cautioned that I read the book as a wakeup call and not as an instruction manual. Jorge advised that I should have a plaque engraved with one of Machiavelli’s more famous quips. “Of mankind, we may say, in general, they are fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain.” He said I should hang the sign near the place I keep my checkbook.
I remember hearing a pithy statement about con artists. The speaker said something to the effect that crooks often get away with fraud and deceit because most people are ashamed of their own gullibility and just quietly go away.
Jorge and I agree that gullibility is a major flaw we need to face up to and not be ashamed of having. Shame is an obstacle to calm, thoughtful contemplation of the issue. Powerful people and institutions use shame for this very reason. We are taught from a young and tender age that we must have blind faith in our religious and political institutions. If we do not have this kind of faith, we will bring shame upon our families and ourselves.
The innocence of children makes them the most gullible members of society. Our most stubborn beliefs are those that were learned when we were small youngsters. This is why most people don’t question the beliefs they were socialized into at a very young age. The naïveté of children is used by strong-willed people to mold young minds into tools for use by social institutions. For better or worse, this is why we have had such groups as Hitlerjungen, the Red Guards, and Campus Crusaders. The usefulness of universal gullibility is why critical thinking courses are relatively rare in our schools.
All of us want to believe certain things. It is this desire that drives magical thinking. Blind faith not only satisfies our desire for wishful thinking; blind faith creates blind spots in our rational thinking processes. We fail to see warning signs until it’s too late. Our personal pride reinforces our gullibility because our pride does not allow us to admit that we are gullible and naïve. One of the most dangerous aspects of egoism and personal pride is that we fail to honestly consider that our most deeply held opinions might be wrong.
My guru once asked me to analyze my most stubborn opinions. He advised that I might find the source for strong views is gullibility. I should look into my deeply held beliefs and honestly determine whether or not I had swallowed some deceitful bait, “hook, line, and sinker”. Then I must ask myself if this deeply held belief serves humanity or only my egoistic urges.
My teacher said that we are most gullible when we believe everything we tell ourselves.
Does this seem reasonable to you? Don’t take my word for it. Rationally analyze these things with critical thinking, yourself.