Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Real Life Tao - Quack, Quack

I think most everyone is familiar with the stereotypical image of a street hustler or huckster. Made famous by various cartoons and comedies, the huckster often is depicted as a shady character in an over-sized trench coat. Speaking in a low voice, the hustler motions you to step inside an alley. He opens up his coat to display various wares. "These are expensive Rolex watches," he confides in over dramatic hushed tones. "I got a special deal. I can't offer this to everybody..."

Of course, in the vast majority of cases, the product is a knockoff or a poor facsimile. It's cheaply made and whatever the "sweet deal" is, the unfortunate dupe has paid far more than what the item is worth.

When most people hear or see depictions of these sorts of hucksters, they laugh. "How could anyone fall for that?" they snort. "I wouldn't. I wasn't born yesterday, you know!"

The unfortunate part of such declarations is that many of the people who are convinced they could never be tricked in that way are tricked just the same when it comes to religious, spiritual or psychological matters.

Our world is awash today in hustlers, hucksters, quacks and snake oil salesmen. Instead of peddling consumer wares, they are in the business of selling salvation, success and wisdom. These new hucksters don't hide out on street corners anymore; you're more apt to find them on the internet, in infomercials, at seminars and retreats, and on The New York Times Bestsellers List!

Not making enough money and finding success in life? Read my book about the secrets needed to become filthy rich! Feeling insecure and down on yourself? Come to our retreat and we'll put you in direct touch with God! Unsure what to make of your life or looking for true meaning? Read and listen to my words and you will become almost as enlightened as I am!

Just like the quacks and snake oil salesman who peddled their patent medicines from town to town in the Old West, the modern huckster makes a lot of promises that are rarely delivered on. Back then, these so-called medicines and elixirs were filled with numerous ingredients of questionable value and mixed with with large amounts of alcohol or opium.

People would buy this crap as a remedy for almost any disease or malady. Because of the key ingredient -- the alcohol or opium -- the consumer initially would feel MUCH better, but after they came down from the high, they soon discovered that the ailment remained unchanged. They weren't being healed after all; they were getting stoned!

So why is this age old practice as prevalent today as yesterday? It basically boils down to two reasons. This first and foremost is money. Unfortunately, it can be a very easy method of earning a quick buck or millions and millions of them!

Too many people think that anyone who projects confidence and bravado knows something grander than they do. And let's face it -- people like shortcuts. If you think you can receive a secret formula or recipe that will allow you to outpace your friends and neighbors, too many people are ready to jump at the promise.

While creating wealth for oneself is a big motivator for today's hustlers, there is another attractive perk - status. In fact, many of the quacks aren't in it for money at all. No, they want you to worship their sage wisdom and knowledge as a way to boost up and swell up their deflated egos. Their self-image is so tied to the idea of being popular and looked up to that they dispense sagely words and advice wherever they go.

So, how does one tell a quack from a true sage? As I alluded to in Wen Tzu, Verse 137, Part I, we should heed the words of Lao Tzu:
Those who know do not talk.
Those who talk do not know.
So, a good rule of thumb is that, if somebody tells you that they are "in the know" or they've got things "all figured out", they don't! Anyone who is willing to provide you with the key answers to life hasn't figured them out anymore than you have. All they are doing is trying to peddle you something.

The true sage doesn't waste his or her breath marketing and self-promoting their sagacity; they live it!! Their life and the way they relate to all things exhibits their wisdom. They don't draw attention to themselves. They lead a simple life and it's through this utter simplicity that you and I can come to understand their wisdom -- a wisdom they would NEVER claim unto themselves.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, in HOng Kong, they're kind of honest: "Copy watch," they say. Still, I would never follow one of them into a sweat lodge!


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