All of this talk about free stuff has got me thinking about another saying that lots of people seem to live by:
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
Now, in my post as an optimistic cynic, the impulse behind this saying is spot-on. But as with anything we take as a bit of conventional wisdom, it’s worth unpacking this particular maxim to see if it really makes sense as a guide for how to live one’s life.
And so without further review, it’s time for more axiometry!
A refresher for what it is that we are doing:
Axiom: “A rule or principle that many people accept as true.”
-metry: “Art, process, or science of measuring.”
I want to measure these axioms to determine whether we should accept them as true.
Here we go.
It isn’t healthy to be too skeptical. Sometimes somebody really is giving something away out of the goodness of their heart. And maybe, just maybe, this thing is something that you happen to need at the time. This is what non-miserable people would call a “happy coincidence.”
Yes, Virginia, sometimes coincidences do happen.
Everything isn’t a conspiracy designed to keep YOU PERSONALLY down. That’s not only insane thinking, it’s narcissistic to boot.
Of course, if something was really valuable, no one would give it away for free, right? Everyone is always out to screw each other. That’s commerce! That’s the way of the world!
Except it ignores these little things called “charity” and “altrusim.” These are things preached by most major religions. Perhaps you’ve heard of them! They’re called, in no particular order, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism . . . I’m sure I missed a few, but you get the idea.
Also, it’s a wee bit odd to lament the lack of social trust and cohesion among Americans, and then act in a way that you think everyone else does. That’s projection, and it really does no one any good.
“Okay, smart guy, what about ‘Schoolyard 101‘? What about ‘do unto others before they do unto you?”
First, I never said that. Second, what I said was to start out nice, gracious, and giving people the benefit of the doubt and stand up for yourself, dammit! But do so without malice. And–this is important–if the other side responds to your equal retaliation by stopping and being contrite and conciliatory, accept their apology and move on.
What does this have to do with skepticism? Simple. If something seems “too good to be true,” why not give it the benefit of the doubt? There’s no good, rational reason to close yourself off from something that could actually be good.
Sometimes people are just decent.
How many times have you been screwed over by something or someone, some snake-oil salesman (or woman; we’re not prejudiced) holding out the promise of the exact thing you need, only for it to be a fraud, a scam, a lie.
You ran out of fingers to count, didn’t you?
There’s another axiom that comes to mind here:
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
The fact of the matter is: “Free” is a psychological trick to make the recipient think they’re getting some kind of deal. But “free” or “too good” can be a hook. Most of these con-artists know what you want and use it to get you to do something they want, or something that they want from you.
Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are all “free,” right? Not quite. What they do is take and trade your information, without your consent (cheap plug alert: use Brave!).
These days, it pays to be guarded. Social trust and cohesion is at a low. What makes makes you think it’s going to get better? What makes you really think that banging on about “My principles!” is going to make the other guy suddenly adhere to them.
It’s simple, folks: Don’t be a fool. Don’t be a patsy. Don’t be a naif. Don’t be a sucker.
This is a tricky one, no question. Of all the axioms I’ve put under the microscope here, I can see the valid points on both sides of this coin.
However, there is another component that I just can’t shake. It involves both the “too good” and “free” part.
I’ll let my friend C.S. Lewis take it from here:
Well, you know how it feels if you begin hoping for something that you want desperately badly; you almost fight against the hope because it is too good to be true; you’ve been disappointed so often before.
I touched on the religious aspects of charity before, but when it comes to a central tenet of Christianity–most religions, I think, like salvation, it IS a gift that was freely given that DOES seem too good to be true. But it is.
If I didn’t think so, then why bother?
Anyway, optimistic cynic or not, I am sick of the darkness and distrust in the world. I’ll continue to give everybody and anything the benefit of the doubt . . . but always seek out gaps in my understanding where there isn’t enough information to make a truly informed choice.
Final Recommendation: Wait until you have enough information before making your final choice. You see, assumptions cut both way. You might avoiding something bad by heeding this axiom’s advice . . . but you also might be cutting yourself off from something great.