Facing Gullibility

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I united with the Quaker testimony of Integrity very naturally when I first learned of it. I had developed a deep need to discern the truth as a child, when I experienced the pain of telling the truth and yet not being believed. My excellent academic education in math and law taught me many methods for seeking the truth – scientific experimentation, logic, debate and more. So when I became a Quaker in my thirties, a deep respect for the value of Truth and Integrity were already well established in my mind.  

Later, through a process called ‘spacious mind,’ I learned to challenge the truth of my own thoughts, and learned to seek evidence to confirm other possibilities. That has helped me clear some self-deception.  Also, working through paradoxes has become a way for me to reconcile conflicting ideas or experiences so that I can perceive a greater truth.  Similarly, Quaker business process helps me with the deep discernment of greater truth, as I take in other people’s experiences and perspectives.

However, because truth is a strong value in me, I am particularly vulnerable to deceptions by other people. I generally assume that other people intend to be truthful. On the whole, I am satisfied with this combination of truth-telling and gullibility in myself. I’d rather be occasionally blind-sided by other people’s dishonesty than suspicious of them all the time. However, as a young mother, I wanted more for my daughter. I wanted to instill in her the value of truth, but not my vulnerability to deception.

I found truth-telling to be fairly easy to teach and enforce. I made my values clear by my own example and by examples I found in literature and Quaker biography. Also, although I practiced forgiveness for most errors, I had a low tolerance for lies. My anger or disappointment at dishonesty was always greater than at any sin a lie was intended to cover up. 

Teaching invulnerability to other’s deceit was much harder for me. Fortunately, daughter’s elementary school was very intentional in its anti-bias curriculum, teaching the students to doubt the truth of assumptions and generalizations.  One of the best projects my daughter ever did in school was an ad campaign in eighth grade.  The unit involved learning about advertising techniques, observing advertising (its frequency and which of the techniques it used) and then designing a campaign for a product using a certain number of the techniques.  My daughter did not become magically immune to advertising, but as an adult, she remains continually aware of the ways that ads attempt to manipulate us.  “Ah, they are trying to create urgency that way, and look, there is a technique for …”

My daughter has turned out to be as truthful as I had hoped, and also better than me at discerning other’s ruses and her own self-deception. I’d like to think my own intentional value of integrity was an influence.  However, I know that she has learned from other experiences as well. Which leads me to remember that our best teacher is our own Inward Guide.  The process of Quaker conviction in worshipful silence can lead us to truth-telling, and it can steer us clear of dangerous deceptions, including the ugliest of all, self-deception. ~~~

Diane Pasta’s fifteen minutes of fame came when an article she wrote for Friends Journal about a homeless person was reprinted in Utne Reader. She moved from Seattle to California in 2005 to care for family members, retiring from teaching math at the Middle School level. She is a member of Palo Alto Friends Meeting.