Before this month, I’d have asserted that I’m not gullible, susceptible to spoofing or easily manipulated. I understand and speak sarcasm fluently and have prided myself on seeing through attempts to hoax, deceive and distract, no matter how subtle.
My inner skeptic and desire for proof was well-honed while studying journalism, building on an innate urge to suspect and question I attribute to my grandpa. He was well-known for telling tall tales to get the goat of my gullible grandma. She was always a good sport and laughed after a moment of embarrassment.
In my teens, I found it funny to walk in his footsteps while convincing friends and family of fantastical stories. My grandpa would be proud, my parents said as we chuckled at the ludicrous things people would believe.
But this month a wayward text conversation made me realize how anyone can be fooled. All it takes is a desire to match reality to our own expectations.
I’d texted a friend to see how she was after surgery. Naturally, I’d found her number in my list of contacts, with her smiling face on the contact card. But right after I hit send, I realized she’d sent me a text a few days earlier from another number.
Since she lives overseas and comes to town for several weeks each summer, I wondered if I’d texted the wrong number. So I composed a duplicate message to the second set of digits and was about to tap Send when my phone chimed with her reply.
“Did I just text the wrong number?” I asked back. “Should I use the other one?”
I should have listened to that original, gut feeling but when she assured me it was OK and asked about getting together, I looked at the smiling face next to the text and saw my friend. I believed it was my friend.
Even as the conversation grew strange, I continued to think it was my friend.
I invited her to come over the next night. She asked who would be there, which would be out of character for my fun-loving friend who can hang with a crowd or an intimate gathering.
And when she asked how she’d get away, also completely out of character, I wracked my brain for a reason.
“She isn’t recovered enough to drive but must be feeling a little post-op, stir crazy,” I reasoned and offered to pick her up.
Her reply was stranger still.
“What about u know who?” she asked. “How will I get away?”
Dumbfounded, I stared at my phone for a minute, trying to fathom why she’d want to get away. Her family is lovely, they cook delicious meals and she raves about staying with them when she’s in town.
But my family has often told the old joke about how much even beloved relatives have in common with fish. They both stink after three days. So I applied my family’s culture to the conversation in an attempt to make it make sense, not realizing I was trying to shove the square peg in the round hole.
And I offered an excuse she could make to “get away” for an evening.
Still, I had to ask. “Who is u know who?”
The supplied name wasn’t a family member or anyone in our mutual circle of friends, so I told her I hadn’t met that person.
Then I added, “or have I?”
But my autocorrect changed it to “Ooooo have I?”
And that’s when she asked who I was.
I had so thoroughly convinced myself the face next to each text was the same person sending them, I still didn’t see the obvious. Instead, I found a way to bend reality to fit my presumptions again.
“I’m so confused. What good drugs did they give u?” I texted back. After all, post-operative pain killers can make anyone a little loopy.
But as I pressed send again my inner skeptic woke up and scoffed. I scrolled through the conversation with growing chagrin.
And I texted the other number and began the conversation I’d thought I’d been having all evening. It fit my friend and made me realize just how foolish I’d been.
It was a good wake-up call. Anyone can be fooled if they want to be. And if someone taps into our preconceptions and biases, they don’t have to pull the wool over our eyes. We’ll do it ourselves.
You can see it every day during election season as people silence their inner skeptics so they can put the proverbial lipstick on a pig and convince themselves to believe almost anything about a candidate they’ve decided to support, no matter how fantastical.
Party-line politics, I believe, have become a place for people who want to bend reality like a piece of pipe cleaner until it looks like a flower or whatever shape they’re aiming for. We’re so easily deceived when we try.
It’s time to re-read the conversation.
Jill Barville writes twice a month about families, life and everything else. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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