Episode 042 – Slogans, Symbols, and Story – The Confidence Game

A powerful story pulls us inside its world, reaching the emotions and suspending rational thought. To persuade, inspire, and…to con us.  Listen to hear how and why it works so well.


(c) Ann Thompson

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On This Episode

Rhythm of Life – Peek-a-Boo
Random Riffs – What’s On Your Dashboard?
Feature Segment – Slogans, Symbols and Story – The Confidence Game

Rhythm of Life – Peek-a-Boo

Ever play peek-a-boo with a small child? Some kids can play for what seems like hours.  And each time they cover their eyes, they think you can’t see them.  Everyone else can tell they are in plain sight.  But because their view has changed, they think yours has too.

How often do we play peek-a-boo in our own lives?

How often do we cover up our eyes so we don’t have to see something inside ourselves?  How often do we pretend no one else can see it either?  When we cover our eyes we can do nothing.

What about you? What are you playing peek-a-boo with?  Take the first step toward transformation, and share with the group.

Random Riffs – What’s on your dashboard?

When I was a kid, my dad used to regularly listen to a radio program that always kicked off with a theme song about a radio evangelist who was really a con artist. He used religion to con people into donating money.

Remembering this song, it got me thinking about what we have faith in. In this case, faith was in a plastic Jesus, a symbol, something that traveled with him on his dashboard.

What, in our lives, might we believe that could be equally ineffective? What’s on our dashboard?

What should we trust?  Listen to the episode to find out.

A plastic Jesus won’t rescue us.

What’s on your dashboard, and can you trust it? Share your thoughts with the group.

Feature Segment – Slogans, Symbols, and Story – The Confidence Game

Similar to our discussion regarding playing peek-a-boo in our lives, in her book “The Confidence Game”, author Maria Konnikova explores  just how much we want to believe in what we wish were true – about our life and even ourselves – and how con artists capitalize on that desire.  To help businesses and non-profit organizations brand themselves, Donald Miller talks about the power of story.  His mantra is, “It’s not the one with the best idea or product who wins.  The one with the best story wins.”

According to both Konnikova and Miller, story has existed since we had language, and even before. Story is one of the most fundamental ways we have of making sense of the world.  Story bonds us together; it creates our history.  It builds culture.

We can learn a lot from “The Confidence Game”. Konnikova wrote her book as a warning about how story can sway our judgement. But first, let’s look at how story works on the brain.

Research has found that stories help transmit important information. Because they are emotionally compelling and engaging, they engage more of the brain and we remember them better than a bunch of facts.    And it typically can’t be just any story, told just any way.  It must follow the timeless arc of the hero’s journey.  When we identify with the hero, we are emotionally engaged.  If the hero represents the person we want to be, that’s when we can be conned.  When we are immersed in the story, that’s when we let our guard down.  But on the positive side, story can make us feel like change is possible.

So when story touches your emotions, you respond instantaneously, effectively hijacking your cognitive thinking. The current presidential campaign is a good example of how others can use story to convince, or even con us. Listen to the episode to hear how.

How can we resist the pull that story has on us? How can we resist being conned?  Konnikove lists some tactics that I describe in the episode.

Truth or con?   The slogans, symbols and sound bites can trip us up and suck us in without us even knowing.  Find your balance between trust and skepticism.  Step back and evaluate what you hear and see, then decide.  The outcome is often riding on our ability to discern.

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