An old friend once told me, “If you say something with enough conviction and sincerity, people will believe you.” He often put this adage into practical use. He kept a construction oversuit, a clipboard with forms, and an orange hard-hat in his trunk. With one or more of these items and a little chutzpah, he was able to go many places most of us wouldn’t try to enter. He saw the inside of the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, before it was opened to the public. He made his way onto movie location shoots. He could brass his way into a dozen places, just by sounding confident and authoritative.
It was an illustrative lesson on just how bovine we humans can be, placidly walking up the ramp to the abattoir.
I haven’t talked much about the upcoming election, on this blog, and if you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I’ve been on somewhat of a “news diet” for the couple of months. Don’t worry; I am not going to urge you to vote for Obama or Romney or Johnson (though I do urge you to vote).
I’m just going to urge you to think. Listen, and think. Throw away the demeanor. Discard all the fire and emotional claptrap.
Just listen to what they all say, and think about what is being said. It’s not easy—it’s much easier to be swayed by passion than it is to search for the logic—but it’s important, if you want to be an informed, thinking participant in our democracy.
The campaigns have ratcheted up, and more of the rhetoric makes its way past my filters. What I’m hearing often sets my brain reeling. Unfortunately, I also made the classic rookie mistake of watching the presidential debates and expecting there to be, well, a debate. Silly moi.
But as I listened to the men trade pre-formed answers and sound bites, it became clear that you just can’t trust your ears. Your ears hear all the emotion in a speech’s delivery, and this sways us. Sincerity is a powerful, persuasive force. As Giraudoux once said of it, “Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” And believe me, both of the main candidates for president have sincerity down pat. But how can they both be so sincere about seemingly contradictory facts?
So, halfway through, I started listening to the words, and just the words. What I heard was illuminating. What I heard was the equivalent of the following exchange:
I tell you, apples are red!
No, that’s incorrect. Apples are sweet!
The men were exchanging assertions that were both incomplete and non-contradictory, but because of their delivery, because they spoke with sincerity and confidence, it sounded like they were actually making cogent points and pertinent refutations.
This is worse on the campaign trail, where there is no refutation. We have to listen. We have to pay attention. We have to toss out all the fire and brimstone and listen to what’s actually being said.
If we don’t, we’re just cattle, and we deserve what awaits us at the top of the ramp.