The Skeptic on the Mat
I hated Physical Education in high school. It is the klutz’s bane. Please don’t ask me to humiliate myself by telling you how I happen to know. I bring it up only so that you will understand why I shrink from conceding having learned anything of value, ever, in PE.
Yet once I did. It happened on the day that Coach Johnson pitted me against Scott W on the wrestling mat.
As Scott effortlessly twisted me into a braid, my classmates standing around the mat shouted instructions at me for freeing myself. Unable to make sense of the roar, I resorted to my secret move. Here it is in case you ever need it: I went limp. This enabled Scott to get the pinning over with, bringing the match to a merciful end. Peeling myself off the mat, I rejoined the surrounding onlookers as the next prospective braid stepped up to face Scott. Watching from the mat’s edge, I could now clearly see what I should have done, and what Scott’s new victim now needed to do, to break free. I added my voice to the not-helpful chorus of shouts.
That was when it struck me. From the perimeter of the mat, it’s easy to see what a wrestler is doing wrong. It’s not so easy when you’re on the mat yourself.
It’s worth remembering the next time one of us is tempted to jump all over another person, fellow skeptic or otherwise, who happens to exhibit what we suppose to be a critical thinking lapse. Especially given that, in that moment, it’s possible that it is we who, oblivious, happen to be on the mat, quite possibly committing lapses of our own.
Steve Cuno is the founder and chairman of The RESPONSE Agency, Inc., a direct response marketing firm, and the author of Prove It Before You Promote It: How to Take the Guesswork Out of Marketing. He is a popular speaker (including several talks at TAM), and contributes to the SWIFT blog at randi.org. He also has a personal web site at stevecuno.com.