Friday, July 12, 2024
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    The seduction of false promises

    Why do we buy the pitch of the snake oil salesman, the flim-flam man, the con artist, the demagogue or the trickster?

    As our modern world becomes more informed and more rational, we see an increase (not the expected decrease) in scams, hustles, and chaos. There are Jokers and Riddlers on every corner, and our email box and mailbox are filled with schemes and manipulations. None of them would succeed if we didn’t support them.

    What’s the attraction of these shortcuts?

    Human culture is fueled and remade by insurgents. Successful art, innovation, and technology make promises that at first, are hard to distinguish from selfish cons like perpetual motion and pyramid schemes. The emperor has no clothes, but wouldn’t it be nice to believe that he did?

    Contradicting forces of complacency, greed, and despair are some of the conditions that can lead us to getting tricked.

    Complacency is a cousin of boredom. When things feel safe, our ennui might give us an itch for adventure.

    Greed is the engine of capitalism and a component of status, and it tends to scale–people with more want even more, and they want it right away and without a lot of effort.

    And despair is a lack of hope, a feeling that the existing paths can’t possibly offer what we need.

    The good news is that we don’t fall for every scam, and we’ve gotten better at being resilient in the face of broken promises. It’s culture that pushes us to find a shortcut, but it’s also culture that can save us from the next one.

    Being surrounded by a community that sees and tells the truth, that establishes a standard for keeping promises and that applauds long-term generative thinking is a resilient way forward. Connection helps us find traction, and forward motion toward better.

    We get to choose which community narrative we want to absorb. And we get to choose whether we want to share those ideas with those we lead and connect with. We pick a neighborhood to live in, and we can pick a culture to be part of.

    No whining, no shortcuts, no hustles. The long-run matters. Honor the rules that protect people who aren’t in your shoes, because you might be them one day.

    If that’s the circle you’d like to be part of, join one, start one, talk about it, and don’t stop.

    Corrosion is inevitable, but so is possibility.

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