The Power of Suggestion

I have a funny little story to tell, a true tale about a simple experiment which my scientific and mischievous friends enacted upon me one day in our youth. It was a conspiracy of suggestion actually, one designed to convince me that I was ill, when in fact I was perfectly healthy. But first, before I begin the tale, let me interject with a non-sequitur, but one that I hope you shall soon see, is very important: “Fear not the things of this world, only fear God and gain wisdom!”

I think we all understand that the more times we hear something the more we believe it is true. This is the basis and rationale of advertising after all, and the entire purpose of marketing; making claims about a product regardless of the validity of the claims, but if the claims are made often enough, people will buy the claims and the product. Our behavior is guided and influenced this way, right? Of course we all know this, consciously or unconsciously, all of us having been thoroughly saturated in these psychological truisms by our commercial economy. Keep these facts in mind as I continue with the tale of my friends’ dastardly plot against me, and how I fell for it; but let me first say: “Fear not the things of this world, only fear God and gain wisdom!”

The day began like most did for me during high school. I arrived at my locker before first period and spun the combination and pulled out a few books and binders before the bell rang to make my way to class. But today I was not just a high school student. Unbeknownst to me at the time, about ten, perhaps twenty of my friends (and even a few mere acquaintances enlisted to participate) had made me the object of an experiment. The hypothesis: could they make a healthy friend sick, merely by suggestion? They believed that they could! The test and observations: repeated suggestions from numerous sources throughout the day to persuade and guide my health to their desired outcome. And so the experiment began, at my locker, just prior to first period. Two friends arrived, and as we began talking one looked at me with concern on her face, “Are you feeling alright? You don’t look so good.”

“I’m fine.” I responded. And my other friend jumped in, “Really? I don’t think so. You look awful.” This seemed very strange to me at the time, but that was the end of it and I walked to class.

As I walked between first and second period someone passed me in the hallway. “Hey! How’s it goin? Whoa, what happened to you?!”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“You look like you got hit by a bus. Are you sick or something?”

“No, I’m fine. What are you talking about?!” I replied with annoyance.

In second period my buddy who sat behind me made a few comments as I sat down, saying that my face looked pale and green.

“No it doesn’t,” I said. “What is wrong with everyone?” I asked.

“Seriously, you should go look in a mirror.” He replied.

So after class, during break I went to the bathroom and had a look. That was when my doubts began. The lighting wasn’t great in the bathroom, with horrible fluorescents, all pasty and white, and the walls were painted green. Like a chameleon I picked up both these traits and indeed I did look pale, green and sickly. By third period I was feeling a little nauseous. By fourth period I was feeling clammy and hot, and my head was beginning to hurt a bit. Several classmates suggested that I should go home and get some rest. I considered it but shrugged it off and said I’d be fine.

At lunch I reconsidered, and I concluded that everyone was right, I wasn’t feeling all that well. I must have picked something up, a cold or flu or something. Maybe I really should go home, and get better. Later, I learned of their trickery. We all had a laugh at my expense, which I really didn’t mind. It was a clever experiment and I was impressed. And the conclusion we made, based on our observations, is that yes, it is possible to make a healthy person believe he is sick through repeated and ongoing suggestion, made by many different sources all with singleness of intent and purpose.

Just today I had an interesting interaction with a propane delivery man, which was actually the situation which made me remember this experiment from my high school days. Let me tell you what happened, but first: “Fear not the things of this world, only fear God and gain wisdom!”

Having refilled our propane tank, the driver carried the hose out from behind our house and I called out to him from my perch on the second story balcony, “Hey! Thanks for filling our tank.”

He looked up at me, from a distance of thirty or forty feet, and quickly, he pulled a cloth mask up over his face. I called down to him to reassure him that I was fine, he didn’t have to put that thing on if he didn’t want. After all, we’re outside, and he was miles away from me. I’m not worried. But he responded, “Yes I do! I don’t want to get this virus!” So it dawned on me then, that he wasn’t protecting me at all, he was protecting himself. I felt foolish; and realized he was probably upset at me now, since I wasn’t wearing a mask. I had been trying to make him feel at ease by saying not to worry about the mask, misunderstanding his motives as being thoughtful towards me, when he was actually just looking out for himself. And that was fine with me once I understood him. Yet, how interesting I found it that here is this man delivering a truckload of propane gas—which to me seems a fairly dangerous job—and he had no concern about that at all, but he had an incredible terror of contracting a virus from me, in the wide outdoors, at a distance of over thirty feet, while I stood on a second story balcony and he stood on the ground. How can this be?!?

“Fear not the things of this world, only fear God and gain wisdom!”

And I remembered the high-school experiment. Of course, that’s it! This propane driver has been terrorized day and night about this virus, by many sources, repeatedly, continuously, all with a common motive and purpose; to provoke his fear, and to manipulate his behavior. It is astounding how effectively this experiment has been enacted upon us. But then, I know first-hand how well this method can work; I remember how it once worked upon me.

We must help each other now, we must reassure each other. We must repeat the better and the more truthful things. We must use our voice and our strength to combat the terrifying message that we are being sold all day, every day. Sure, we may die; we will die. But let us first live; let us live without fear. I imagine that if I were to tell that propane driver every day about all the propane explosions that happen each year (roughly 2,900 homes destroyed annually, 25 deaths and 155 injuries) he might eventually grow frightened to drive that truck. But why scare him? What’s the point of that?

I would rather give him hope, and give him courage to face the challenges of this life, with all of its difficulties and sorrows. I would rather repeat again and again for him: “Fear not the things of this world, only fear God and gain wisdom!” This is the message that he needs to hear, and hear repeatedly, continuously with singleness of purpose, so that he and everyone like him can live without fear of life.

“Fear not the things of this world, only fear God and gain wisdom!”

~FS

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