Two women, perusing items at a flea market, came across the table of a man who was selling good luck charms and talismans. Calling out to them, the man drew them in with his sales pitch: “This medallion guarantees great happiness to its owner, and here – this statuette, placed in your home, will protect it from thieves. And this talisman will bestow unlimited wealth and power to anyone who holds it.”

One of the women was interested in the man’s wares, but the other pulled her friend away with a laugh, saying: “If his talismans and charms actually worked, do you think he would be selling them here? He could simply use one of his own charms, and be wealthy and powerful – yet instead, here he is, a flea market vendor.”

Of course, no magical talisman guarantees wealth and power to its possessor, but even when the claims are less fantastic, it is always good to take a hard look at what you are being promised – and the facts about the person or organization promising you a wonderful outcome. From the psychic who keeps shop in a shoddy “strip mall” and drives a junked-out car, to the “expert” on child-rearing whose grown children won’t speak to him, many charlatans are easy to spot: you only have to compare their own life with the happiness and prosperity they claim to be able to summon for you, and the scam falls flat.

Some fraudulent people and groups are more clever, and you might have to research a little more thoroughly to see the inconsistencies: you would have to attend several meetings at a Kingdom Hall before the façade of “the Happiest People on Earth” fell away, revealing that Jehovah’s Witnesses are prone to the same troubles as everyone else – if not more, for being in a high-control group. Similarly, those in the upper levels of Scientology are directed not to “show off” the superhuman powers they have gained from their courses, supposedly so they do not scare lesser mortals, but really to hide the fact that they have no special powers whatsoever, except perhaps the ability to keep donating money to the mother cult. An abusive spouse will swear that no one else could possibly love you the way they do, knowing that it will take many years of dating and self-healing before you realize that they never really loved you at all.

It does no harm to ask questions and do a little research before buying either a talisman or a destructive belief system, or as the old adage has it: we should look before we leap. When considering the claims of any person or group – whether they are merely offering us an improvement in life-skills or eternal life and happiness – we should remember this fable from Aesop, and look at not only their promises, but also at their own achievements – and apply healthy skepticism in judging just how likely it is that they can keep those promises.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

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