Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Playing the Shell Game

According to Wikipedia, the shell game dates back at least to ancient Greece. A con man quickly shuffles a pea around beneath a series of shells or thimbles on a flat surface, moving the pea from one to another. The person to be fooled stands, trying to identify the shell that hides the pea by the time the shuffling stops. He might be allowed to be right once or even twice—enough to raise his confidence in the ability to win so he’ll wager significant funds. And then the nimble-fingered con man makes certain the dupe is wrong—even if he has to secretly remove the pea from the table.

False confidence ensures the immortality of the game. We all like to think we can win—like spoiled children being indulged in spite of our shortsightedness. We hate to be wrong, so we tell ourselves we can be the ones to defeat the master of the game. However, we win only when the con man wants us to win.

Many websites talk about building confidence. “Believe in yourself!” they command. Of course they’re right. If you don’t believe you can do well, you can’t. But it’s also folly to allow yourself to be tricked. The eye is easily fooled; ask any magician. He or she creates a diversion that seems to be the action while the trick is being performed elsewhere—the reason children are the most difficult audiences for magic. They aren’t as easily directed to what seems logical as adults are.

“I can see you’re a no-nonsense, salt-of-the-earth person.” Flattery is a powerful drug. Under its influence, we can fail to see hard truths. I’ve mentioned women are better than men at spotting lies—unless they have an emotional investment. Then they’re more gullible. As humans, we want to see what we want. We want to be told we’re right. We want to believe we’re in good company with our beliefs. Bullies tell themselves “all’s fair” as long as they get their way.

Picking our way through life is a difficult task. Truth isn’t always pretty. It simply is. To look at truth, we need to be able to look at our own weaknesses with as much industry as we use to admire our strengths. Being in a minority is immensely difficult. Studies demonstrate most people will convince themselves of obvious lies before they’ll go against popular opinion.

Some of us aren’t always cheery because we see our weaknesses and embrace them as truth. We trade constant cheer for solid footing. Now and then, we must stand in opposition to those who dance to the blindly happy tunes of the Pied Piper, ignoring danger in order to surge with the crowd. But once we believe we’re powerful enough to be independent, once we believe we can create better realities with our grit and perseverance, then we are the force—for ourselves, for the life around us. Great works are created by artists who aren’t afraid to reveal themselves and their world. Great movements begin with quiet truths.

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