Critical Thinking helps combat coercive control

A dose of healthy skepticism allows us to question claims and promises that are hard to prove – checking any supernatural claim exemplifies healthy skepticism…
Intelligent Disobedience +

Intelligent Disobedience

We need to be able to voice our concerns, to assert our rights, and to stand up to injustice. Intelligent disobedience is “doing right when what you’re told to do is wrong.” 

Learn more about Intelligent Disobedience

Bamboozle Detection

If we ask the right questions, any scam or trick will fall apart. It is surprising how obvious manipulation techniques become when you know what they are. This is our baloney detection kit.

Learn more about Bamboozle Detection

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to make decisions based upon evidence rather than emotions. Critical thinking helps us to collect and consider the facts, and understand the bigger picture.

Learn more about Critical Thinking

How to Talk to Children

It is important that children learn how to spot human predators as early as possible. Children who are taught intelligent disobedience are far less likely to be attracted by such predators. Children need simple explanations and ways to easily absorb those explanations. 

Learn more about How to Talk to Children

Courageous Followership

Courageous followers speak truth to power. We must learn how to stand up to the excesses of our leaders and overcome the groupthink urge to simply do as we are told. We can only have ethical leaders if we are courageous followers.

Learn more about Courageous Followership

Bamboozle Detection

Trickery Is a Tool of Manipulation

All children should be taught bamboozle detection along with their multiplication tables, if not their ABC’s.

The Tools of the Trade

“Bamboozle” means “trickery” and we use the word to cover all of the many approaches used by human predators to seduce and recruit unsuspecting victims into their traps.

The first approach will often be charming – flattery is usually involved. If a stranger smiles too much, and compliments you on your appearance or your intelligence, watch out!

Often there will be an attempt at physical contact – pick-up artists touch a woman’s hair or her arm. This is a way of creating physical rapport. Be alert to any stranger who touches you, or moves into your personal space, without permission.

This flower is our gift for you!

A cheap gift may be offered – some pick-up artists give necklaces, timeshare scammers offer free drinks and meals; cult recruiters may give flowers or incense sticks, or offer a free survey or personality test. When a stranger offers you something for nothing, they are acting out a deliberate script, and they are definitely trying to sell you something. It is time to walk away.

Bamboozle Detection - Health Skepticism

Con artists offer big rewards for small investments, offering us a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to cash in. Many will justify their actions by saying that greedy people deserve to be conned, but the truth is that we all want to make a profit in life, so it is easy to be taken in. If it seems too good to be true, it most likely isn’t true.

Another manipulative tactic is to insist that the offer is taken up immediately – time pressure is an essential element of trickery: “buy now or lose the deal” is the message of the predator; if we’re given time to think it over, we’re more likely to see the trick, and that’s bad for business. Simply put, if you must “buy now,” don’t.

Emotional manipulation can go either way: into your darkest fears, or into your highest hopes and dreams. It is not a good idea to share either your fears or your dreams with a stranger, because it creates emotional vulnerability. The scammer will offer to mend your fears or to help you achieve your dreams, but will more likely increase your fears, empty your wallet, and shatter your dreams.

These approaches have little to do with critical thinking: even the most rational people are prey to predators, and as neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor says, “‘Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.”

Perhaps the most important advice is never to take sweets – or anything else – from strangers; don’t sign anything without taking it home and talking it over with friends; and take a long hard look at that friendly stranger, before handing over any cash or making a commitment.


Bamboozle Detection Resources

Intelligent Disobedience

Standing Up and Doing the Right Thing

Intelligent disobedience means the ability to assert ourselves when we disagree. It is “doing right when what you’re told to do is wrong”. Too often, we teach children to simply obey, rather than teaching them to reason and express their views.

Obedience Can Be a Sell Out

Sometimes in emergencies it is necessary to act on the directions of a leader, but most of the time we are better off discussing options and considering possibilities. Obedience can strengthen groupthink and compliance with ill-conceived plans.

We are too often willing to accept information without checking the source. Fake news is readily believed, and reliable sources of information dismissed, because we have not learned how to collect and examine evidence. Intelligent disobedience is the first stage of this process: we have the right to doubt, to question any information presented to us. Only tyrants teach otherwise.

Intelligent disobedience is not rebellion against authority, but rather the best check against tyranny. Children – and adults – should be taught to disagree agreeably.

Investing in Courage

Intelligent disobedience can be learned from an early age, as this video demonstrates:

In his groundbreaking book, “Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong” Ira Chaleff offers a formula for intelligent disobedience:

  1. Understand the mission of the organization or group, the goals of the activity of which you are a part, and the values that guide how to achieve those goals.
  2. When you receive an order that does not seem appropriate to the mission, goals, and values, clarify the order as needed, then pause to further examine the problem with it, whether that involves its safety, effectiveness, cultural sensitivity, legality, morality, or common decency.
  3. Make a conscious choice whether to comply with the order or to resist it and offer an acceptable alternative when there is one.
  4. Assume personal accountability for your choice, recognizing that if you obey the order, you are still accountable regardless of who issued the order.

Acting or Refusing to Act

Intelligent Disobedience goes beyond querying or speaking up in dissent. It means refusing to obey if you think that obeying may produce avoidable harm. Intelligent Disobedience requires critical thinking but it goes beyond critical thinking into acting or refusing to act. We cannot claim innocence by saying “I told them I thought it was wrong” if we proceed to obey anyway.


Courageous Followership

Heroes or Devils

Courageous followership speaks truth to power. It overcomes the groupthink that fails to challenge leaders about ill-considered and potentially dangerous decisions.

Focus on the Leader

Our culture is very much focused on celebrity, and we celebrate our leaders, without necessarily understanding that behind every great leader there is usually a great team enabling that leader.

Leaders are usually seen as heroes or devils – there is little mid-ground. Most Britons revere Churchill and revile Chamberlain, but Churchill’s excesses and failures are disregarded, as is Chamberlain’s considerable political acumen. The same can be said of many leaders – they are a mix of sense and folly, as are we all.

Charisma Is Not Always Intrinsic

Sociologist Max Weber pointed out that “charisma” is a quality given to leaders by their followers, rather than something intrinsic. He was among the first to study the role of followers, rather than concentrating simply on the capacity of leaders.

At times, opposition is the only answer. Gandhi stood up to the cruel imperialism of the British Raj. Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King gave their lives to oppose racism. But courageous followership is appropriate in all situations. It is “courageous,” because there are risks involved. Courageous followership demands that we stand up for what we know to be true.

Five Styles of Followership

Robert E Kelly, a pioneer in the field, has set out five basic styles of followership: the sheep, who simply follow the leader; the yes-people, who are highly supportive of the leader and uncritical; the alienated, who are generally critical of the leader; the pragmatics, who wait to see which way the wind is blowing before weighing in on the stronger side; and the star followers, who think for themselves, are active and contribute positive energy.

Courageous followers fit into this last category – they are “star followers.” As Kelly says, “They do not accept the leader’s decision without their own independent evaluation of its soundness. If they agree with the leader, they give full support. If they disagree, they challenge the leader, offering constructive alternatives that will help the leader and the organization get where they want to go.

See Chaleff, Riggio and Lipman-Blumen eds, The Art of Followership: How Great Followers Create Great Leaders and Organizations

Devil’s Advocate

In his study of groupthink, Irving Janis suggested that all groups should deliberately include a devil’s advocate. The Catholic Church used to appoint a devil’s advocate to argue against any proposed saint. The advocate’s job is to find contrary evidence. The best devil’s advocates would be star followers.

In a free country, people should show their opposition to statements and practices that they disapprove of, but we might also consider how to be better followers: how to influence the incumbent president by using (and perhaps improving) the system to complain, and make suggestions toward betterment.

No Test for Politicians

It is surprising that there is no test to ensure that politicians are psychologically competent. We need to inhibit psychopaths and narcissists, and we should seek compassionate people to lead us, but good leadership will only win out if we are courageous followers.

Courageous followership is absolutely about questioning, when needed; about helping positional leaders see their blind spots, and helping them understand the impact of their actions on success and on morale, as well as taking an ethical stand when needed. Crucially, these actions are effective if the follower performs their own job well and authentically supports the leader.

Test of Core Values

If what the leader  is asking has a reasonable chance of success, and doesn’t violate core human values, even if the follower would prefer a different course, following is inherent to the follower role. In other words, following requires not continuously competing for the lead role. So the courage to serve or support the leader and the mission is foundational. In that context the positional follower can then successfully question, offer candid critiques, suggest alternative courses, and so forth.

Further Reading:

Ira Chaleff, The Courageous Follower: Standing Up to and for Our Leaders


Critical Thinking

Objective Analysis and Evaluation

Critical thinking, sometimes called healthy skepticism, is a learned skill, using reflective, analytical thinking to make a reasonable, rational decision on what to believe or do. Even the most intelligent people have to learn it and practice it consciously. Once learned, critical thinking helps us to resist emotional appeals that might otherwise undermine our reasoning. 

The Hidden Agenda

Where manipulators use undue influence to control people, critical thinkers use due or ethical influence to inform and educate. Manipulators have a hidden agenda; honest persuaders simply want to share everything they know. “Critical” thinking does not mean thinking in a negative way, but rather examining the evidence carefully before making a decision.

The Critical Thinking Essentials

The essential elements of critical thinking in everyday life are:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads
  3. Application of systematic analysis to problem solving

1. Curiosity:

We can always learn something new, no matter how knowledgeable we are. We should be open to new information, so that we can change our opinions. When we are curious, we enjoy looking at things from different perspectives, because it will improve our understanding and expand our knowledge. Curious people keep asking questions, like “What if the opposite is true?”, “What if I am wrong?”, “How sure can I be about this explanation?”, “How did you come to your conclusion?”, “What would it take for me to question my opinion?”

2. Willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads:

This is the willingness to explore the facts we’re given and see what conclusions they might lead to. Instead of discarding evidence because it doesn’t fit in with our cherished assumptions, we need to be open to anything that might contradict our existing information and beliefs. The wider the variety of pieces of evidence that we can find, the better adapted and more nuanced our view of reality will become. This attitude leads us to a realistic outlook on life, and a capacity to interpret and predict the wealth of facts and information we must deal with every day.

3. Application of systematic analysis to problem solving:

We must reflect on problems from different angles to work out the importance, goals, actions and outcomes in a rational and reasonable manner. Systematic analysis means we don’t make decisions based on assumptions, emotions, or wishful thinking. Instead, we evaluate possible outcomes to see if there might be a better approach. By reviewing our past actions, we will improve our future responses. Strategies include: looking at problems from other people’s points of view, applying logical reasoning skills, holding back when we feel a need to act on the basis of an emotion such as guilt, fear, shame, infatuation, or loyalty, and analyzing carefully how rational and fair other people’s arguments are. Critical thinking skills help us to avoid mistakes and to lead a better life.


How to Talk to Children

Give Children Power of Choice

Knowing how to talk to children about predators and manipulation is vital to giving them the tools in life to spot manipulation, coercion and undue influence.

It is vital to talk to children at the level of their understanding. Too many adults presume that children share their vocabulary and their ideas; it often isn’t so.

Young children need simple lessons. Ira Chaleff’s “Blink, Think, Choice, Voice” is an excellent beginning. Adolescents are more likely to pay attention to the culture of their peers – Rick and Morty is far more appealing to them than Shakespeare.

Children need to be heard. Recent abuse scandals have highlighted the failure of adults to believe what they are being told. The first lesson is to listen, and the second is to ask questions to make sure that you understand what the child’s understanding is. Friendly questioning also helps the child to remember the points being made.

We all respond best to stories – narratives that explain the world in simple terms: religious parables and fairy tales are easy to understand and often vividly described – they stick in the mind.

It is often best to explain to a child through a story from your own experience – especially if you can admit to a mistake, because that not only creates interest and empathy, it also allows the child to see that admitting to mistakes is a positive – even an admirable – trait.

If you feel irritated or angry, don’t try to persuade or educate a child. We take in information better when we are not on the defensive, when we feel comfortable and, best of all, when we are fascinated. A boring or emotionally charged environment is no good for learning!

Be patient, be interesting and be concerned about the child’s welfare. It may well be frustrating – especially if they want to run off with a potentially dangerous group.

If that is the case, it is important to allow them to tell you about the group, rather than trying to use rational argument (or sneering criticism of the group, which should be avoided at all costs!). Our commitments are emotional, whether we are adults or children. If a child feels certain that a probably dangerous group offers salvation to all of humanity, they will defend their belief in the same way that a parent will defend a child: we adopt our beliefs, and treasure them, often irrationally. It is the passion of commitment that has to be quieted, not the reasons they may have for holding that commitment.

Active listening is a counseling approach that is very useful in communicating. To diffuse potentially emotional situations, it is sensible to listen to the end of a person’s thought – which can be an agreed two or five minute period – before responding. Even when you know their evidence is wrong, it is best to let them offer it all. If necessary, take notes, so that you can return to anything that has been said.

There are particular open-ended questions that are useful for anyone with a fixed way of thinking. Ask what attracted the child to the belief system, what they expect to gain personally, what they feel they have gained, what they have seen gained by others. People too often think they will win someone over by destroying their belief with evidence. But this is not a contest: people should only change their beliefs when they are persuaded, rather than when they are bullied, cajoled or tricked. And the only person who can really persuade me is me. There is a difference between, “You’re right” and “I agree”: the first is sometimes simply code for “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

The purpose of conversation is to bring someone to express themselves sufficiently to begin to ask questions and offer negative comments about the group or belief. This only happens in a friendly, uncritical environment, where their right to have an opinion is respected.

Where children have already been involved in a high-control group, it is best to seek expert information. Janja Lalich’s latest book, Escaping Utopia, is a good source on second-generation members. Steve Hassan’s Combatting Cult Mind Control remains the most accessible general text.

More difficulties are resolved through patient listening than forceful argument. Once you have listened patiently, the child should be willing to consider your evidence. Be sure that the evidence is well-researched and not simply an attack – and support children in their right to make decisions for themselves!