I used to have a friend (note: used to) who mistrusted everyone and was convinced everything was a scam. He even hated Christmas.
And I always used to wonder, as I discussed life with him, whether he was being unhealthily negative or I was being obstinately naïve. Of course, I knew (and know) that not everyone is to be trusted – but I just prefer to assume that, in principle, the person across from me means well (though he or she may have a minor agenda) and that if it turns out that I have been had, to be philosophical about it. To take one for the team, as it were.
This exposes me to having my feelings hurt, being disappointed or being downright scammed, I know. In fact, to be honest, of course I’ve been had. But to view everyone with ‘suitable’ suspicion, as my former friend might have put it, just seems too draining a philosophy. A sort of always present low hum of suspicion, instead of the occasional cold blast of disillusionment.
As I have continued to wonder about this, I was drawn to a book called The Confidence Game, by Maria Konnikova, about con artists and their victims. This book goes into, among others, why even the most informed people – con artists themselves, as a matter of fact! – walk into the trap of (other) con artists. I thought perhaps I might learn a happy medium between assuming the best about everyone and assuming the worst about everyone.
Imagine my surprise and delight then, when, in the first chapter already, I read that I am not only quite normal, but that I display what is, in fact, literally a healthy attitude. It was quite a relief.
“And one more thing: I will continue to believe in Santa Claus.”
There I found an answer as to why, and whether, I am obstinately trusting. Konnikova explains: “People are trusting by nature. We have to be.” It is our default setting. But not only that; she goes on to say: “Higher so-called generalized trust … comes with better physical health and greater emotional happiness. […] Those who trust more do better.” In fact, “Countries with higher levels of trust tend to grow faster economically and have sounder public institutions.” Of course, as she points out: “… Those who trust more become the ideal, albeit unwitting, player of the confidence game: the perfect mark.” But… and this is important to keep in mind: “The simple truth is that most people aren’t out to get you”.
I have to confess that it is nice to realize that I don’t have to eye everyone with suspicion and question their motives in order to prove that I am more worldly-wise. Don’t worry, I’m not going to be telling anyone the pin-code for my bank card any time soon. But I will continue to give the recovering drug addict at the supermarket door 5 euros, every time I see him – but no longer the Romanian lady who, one day, started implicitly asking for more (“I only need 500 euros”) to visit her sick father back home. I will believe, but I won’t turn off my common sense.
And one more thing: I will continue to believe in Santa Claus. Instead of being cynical and allowing myself to be distracted by grumblings about the commercial elements of the Christmas season, or the fact that Santa himself is a distraction from the real holiday (holy day), I’m going to string up the Christmas lights, put up my Santa-puppet, decorate the tree, sing along – loudly and off-key – to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and allow myself to be completely hypnotized – like the classic mark of the con artist – by Santa’s charisma, friendliness, jolliness, and harmlessness.
And guess what? I’m going to once again love the Christmas season, stimulate the economy by buying gifts and, in the process, make people happy. And then I’m going to enter the new year with a smile and my self-respect intact.
editor in chief