Gullible and Naïve – John Krieg [Essay]

Gullible and Naïve

I wish I wasn’t, but I know I am.  This is not a very flattering admission, I must admit, but I value truth above all else.  Being both gullible and naïve is a curse of the highest order, and something that has plagued me for my entire life.  How I arrived at this unenviable position is a mystery to me, perhaps revealing that although I revere honesty, that I simply can’t bring myself to utilize it when dealing with my personal shortcomings.

Voltaire is credited with saying, “Religion began when the first scoundrel met the first fool.”  Benjamin Franklin is famous for having written that, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” And I can be credited with oftentimes saying, “I won’t get taken again,” but the odds are that I will be, and following are the reasons why.

The biggest come-on to watch out for is: “I’m a good person.”  If that’s actually true, why do they feel the need to tell you?  This is presumptuous in the extreme because they assume the position of making your decision for you.  The average conman tries to convince you. Accomplished con artists are proficient at getting you to convince yourself. Similar to the old saying of, “If you’ve got it – flaunt it,” the reality is that if you’ve got it, it will shine through bright and clear without any bragging necessary.  Always watch out for any uncalled brazenness or any dubious pressure tactics such as, “It’s going to sit,” or “This offer is good for a limited time only,” or “Hurry while supplies last.” 

Con artists are master storytellers. Plausibility and the credability go by the wayside once a good story takes hold of anyone’s attention span.  The short story writer taps into this phenomenon by utilizing the concept of “suspended disbelief.” Once a story takes us in we don’t want to slow the delivery of the next line by questioning the last one. Believing in the story’s arc is entertaining, and even if just for a short while, gives us something to believe in.

People need something to believe in because there are so many unbelievable things happening in plain sight in their everyday lives.  Tell a lie often enough, and not only the liar, but the hearer of the lie, come to believe it. A perfect example of this principal is the performance of the king of conmen who now resides in our nation’s White House.  The Mad King is an accomplished liar, and you can rest assured that if his lips are moving that he is lying again; yet 40 percent of the country takes what he says as dogma on any given day.

It goes without saying that conmen are psychotics. They most certainly lack empathy.  They are simply incapable of feeling bad about the pain that they inflict upon their marks, in fact they are convinced that their marks had it coming for their sin of gullibility, which the con despises as much as stupidity.   This is the epitome of the heartless saying: “Never give a sucker an even break.” Their marks simply deserved it, after all. 

It’s not very self-flattering that I know that conmen are exceptional judges of character and that I have frequently fallen prey to them.  They can spot the desperate, those who are under intense pressure, and the emotionally vulnerable as deftly as a Red-tail Hawk spots a Field Mouse far from cover in an open field.  It’s not a question of if they will swoop, but when. Desperation is a stench that revolts all noses. Conmen, know this, of course and are adept at being aloof, disinterested and nonchalant when the situation calls for it.  Misery loves company, however, and the desperate are the most miserable of all and in much need of friendship which the conman delivers at that exact moment in time when it appears almost miraculous, and more than anyone else the gullible and naïve believe in the power of miracles.  From newfound friendship springs gratitude, and shortly thereafter, trust

Trust given too easily is second cousin to laziness.  In the world of Google, how difficult is it to actually check out a story or verify a few basic facts?  Lest you doubt, consider that many jobs are given on the basis of trumped up resumes, for no other reason than the interviewer liked the interviewee. There is so much of “fake news” these days, especially on the internet, that we simply throw up our hands and decide to go on instinct alone, and the instincts of someone as gullible and naïve as I am can well lead to their undoing.  

The old saying of: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” does not apply to conmen because many cons are run from inside the family unit and the sphere of what can be viewed as friends.  They have inside information, after all, and know when you are most vulnerable or going through a life change that could cloud your judgment. And since aging accelerates as it progresses, it most certainly equates to a life change.  Conmen look for elderly marks, in particularly, and sometimes exclusively. They are most likely to show up in the wake of human and natural disasters. Again, they seem to almost miraculously appear as saviors. The savior come lately is the master of the setup.

Conmen want you to feel exceptional and are proficient at pumping up your sense of specialness.  Everyone is susceptible to flattery. We favor those that flatter us because not only does it make us feel good about ourselves from the outside, it reinforces positive feelings we harbor about ourselves on the insides– our egos, in other words.  This is known as the play.

There are telltale signs that the conman is setting the hook.  They will barrage you with facts, choices, and information that they say will support their story, but in actuality is simply meant to confuse you.  Conmen like to speed you up which can make you feel stupid and then they use your embarrassment against you as a tool to repress your sense of inquiry.  If you’re afraid to ask questions for fear of appearing naïve, that is the exact definition of being naïve. 

The setup is similar to priming the pump; a little amount of water used at exactly the right time can cause a flood to spew forth.  Nowhere in the dark world of marijuana sales can the taste known as “the front” be used to the conman’s greatest advantage. Front a little and get a little back.  Everyone knows that to win big you must bet big, so when you get that money on time you are more inclined to front a little more to get a little more; and so on, and so on, until the fronted has built up his credit to the point that it’s worth his while to cut and run leaving you to hold the bag. Always remember that just because someone proved trustworthy in the past is no guarantee that they will be trustworthy in the future.  How can you actually win if you don’t believe that you can win? The conman manipulates belief the way a stripper does – everything appears to be within reach. You know logically that you can’t touch it, but your base desire tells you that you’re so close.

Here are the three mistakes I most commonly make.  First, I believe that all people think like I think, and therefore that I have an instant insight into the inner workings of their minds.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Secondly, I feel that I’ve had it rough and therefore deserve a break. I seem to forget that nobody owes me anything in this world.  And thirdly, I truly believe in the goodness of mankind having frequently written about the family of man. Somehow, I fail to observe that in all families large and small that there are always black sheep; it’s just the way things are.

I remember contracting jobs that I wanted and that I didn’t get. I could visualize how I’d complete them, how it would all go, and then nothing happened.  In reality, some of the jobs that I didn’t get were the best ones. This is because, although I didn’t make any money, I certainly didn’t lose any.  When I acquired my virtually worthless online Masters of Business degree, the most useful lesson that was offered up was the concept of “sunk costs” which basically advises that dwelling upon and lamenting past money spent on dry holes and lost causes is a patent waste of time because that money can never be recouped. So, why let these losses affect the future?  Conmen can string a mark along into successively worse and larger investments by spinning the yarn that all funds previously extended can be recouped, and then some, simply by staying the course. Nobody wants to believe that their money has been lost. The ability to cut their losses is not the forte of the gullible. Just like a murderer who is compelled to return to the scene of the crime, the conman has no compunction against using the same mark, sometimes over and over again.  The way they look at it is once a fool, always a fool.

I hold on to slights and insults that occurred years ago, and all that does is eat away at my self-respect because I’m mad at myself that I didn’t call out those who levied them upon me, sometimes out of fear of physical harm, but more usually because I didn’t grasp their true meaning at the time they occurred.  Almost everyone thinks of comebacks that would have been perfect, but unfortunately, those comebacks occur in their heads well after the incident is over. The ability to let go, or failing that, to simply forget adds years to one’s life, Resentments and grudges most often only hurt those who harbor them. This is the conman’s stock in trade.  Nobody truly wants to feel like a rube, even if they most assuredly were, so they put the whole sordid ordeal out of their mind, and the conman doesn’t get exposed, after all. Believe me, they bank on it. The main reason that most conmen don’t become exposed to society at large is because their marks are too embarrassed to admit that they have been duped.

The most useful advice that I’ve ever received considering my affliction is The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time (2016) By Maria Konnikova.  If you’re as gullible and as naïve as I am, I strongly suggest you buy several copies and keep them on your bed stand, atop your toilet tank, in your car, and on your person at all times.

Whenever I go back and run a mental post mortem I can usually isolate that point in time where my con tipped his/her hand.  I was just too blind to their compelling and/or hard luck story to notice. All the red flags were flying in full view yet I ignored them.  That’s when I really beat myself up. The emotional always rules out over the logical and the conman knows how to pierce any emotional veil and push their mark’s buttons.

Con artists expertly draw me in and are adept at the fine art of subliminal persuasion, the process whereby I convince myself, even against my own better judgment.  Like the mouse in the open field, my only options are to miraculously shape-shift into a much larger species, or to never leave the safety of cover. The former is an impossibility, while the latter leads to a dull, boring, and unfulfilling life.  Better to accept that I will occasionally fall victim to a con, cut my losses as quickly as possible, and move on, than not to live at all.


By John Krieg

  • John C. Krieg is a retired landscape architect and land planner who formerly practiced in Arizona, California, and Nevada. He has written a college textbook entitled Desert Landscape Architecture (1999, CRC Press.) John has had pieces published in A Gathering of the Tribes, Alternating Current, Blue Mountain Review, Clark Street Review, Conceit, Homestead Review, Oddball Magazine, Palm Springs Life, Pegasus, Saint Ann’s Review, The Courtship of Winds, The Mindful Word, The Writing Disorder, and Wilderness House Literary Review.

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