Who we listen to and trust is the greatest single factor determining our level of happiness and success. Have you ever thought about why you trust who you trust? Most people use their emotional reactions as a guide, with very little, if any, logical examination. With media being such a large component of our lives, there’s no shortage of people giving us their ‘expert’ opinion on virtually any topic. If we want to maximize our happiness and success we need to be able to figure out the difference between real experts and people posing as experts. I recommend asking yourself three questions about people you come across who are in the role of expert. These questions can help you weed out the posers. First, ask yourself “why should this person be considered an expert?” Many of the reasons people commonly accept people as experts has nothing to do with real expertise. Often a person is considered an expert if they hold a position of authority in their field but a role, even one socially regarded as important, does not indicate true expert status. Many people are driven to achieve positions of authority and importance to compensate for psychological imbalances, and/or they may have control or vanity personality priorities. A person on national TV who has an impressive title and who presents themselves well may not know what they’re talking about or may have an agenda that’s not readily apparent. People who have achieved their expert status because of what they have actually done in their specific field are truly experts. A surgeon who has performed dozens of successful heart transplants is a real expert on heart transplant. The head of a managed health network that’s on a news show, offering their opinion on matters related to heart transplants, probably isn’t. Also, it’s important not to judge a book by its cover when it comes to experts. Real experts are frequently not overly concerned with their image and may not be the greatest public speakers; Albert Einstein is a good example. Often the snakiest, most manipulative and dishonest ‘experts’ will be immaculately dressed and present themselves with seductive ease.

 The second poser spotting question I recommend is “in this situation, is this expert’s opinion specific to their field of expertise or possibly outside of it?” Many people seek time in the public eye and are happy to offer their opinions or advice, often regardless of its merit. Many sports personalities use their status to recommend and endorse products or services. Some of these recommendations can be very good; a marathon winner’s shoe recommendation is certainly worth considering. But while an NFL superstar is certainly a real expert when it comes to being on the field, it’s doubtful that expertise extends to where to get the best deal on a new roof. George Jones is truly an expert at writing and singing old school country songs but have you ever tried the breakfast sausage he recommends? It’s truly awful.

The third ‘weed out the posers’ question is “does this person have a conflict of interest in this situation? Are they speaking as a true neutral authority or do they have something to gain or an axe to grind?” When we’re buying a car, home or other ‘large ticket’ item, we commonly come across a plethora of people offering expert advice and opinions. The people accepted as experts are usually people who have been in the industry in one form or another for quite a while. But do these years of experience, positions of authority and ease of ‘gab’ make them the best people to listen to when it comes to buying a car, home or other large ticket item?

If a person earns their living within an industry, whether it’s as a sales person,  a writer, a show host or a huge internet advice site, they’re probably the wrong people to listen to because it’s likely they have a vested interest in the decision you make. Industry ‘experts’ often recommend the services and products of companies who advertise on their show, in their magazine or on their website. These shows, magazines and websites can be great sources of information about, products, options, news and special programs but it’s important to not let yourself directed into an unwise decision. Expert advice from sources that do not have conflicts of interest are much more reliable.

To sum the qualities of a real expert:  1 - This person has actually done work in their field that supports an expert status. 2 – The opinions they are offering are within the realm of their expertise and 3 – There are no (or very few) possible conflicts of interest that could affect their opinion.

By applying this quick, three pronged analyses to the many experts we come across, we can weed out the posers and maximize our happiness and success, by utilizing the wisdom of people who actually know what they’re talking about.


The Elephant in the Living Room 

 In the early 1990’s an alcoholism recovery hospital ran a series of TV commercials where a normal family was going about their daily business with one unusual facet; there was a huge elephant in the house that everyone was ignoring. Of course the elephant represented the obvious but denied problem of alcoholism. We have a similar situation in America right now albeit on a much larger scale; without the education to discern honest endeavor from bombast, vast numbers of people are easily guided into supporting practices that threaten not only a sensible way of life but the physical well being of our planet. Simply said, too many Americans are easy to dupe. 

 How can we expect a voting population who doesn’t know the first thing about sophistry or techniques of manipulation to see through rhetoric slingers like the Tea Party, Fox News and the like?  

                                            We can’t!

 It’s painfully obvious that many Americans desperately need to be educated as to the ways of those who work to manipulate them, but how do we get it done? Like driving and sexual prowess most people are pretty prideful about their abilities when it comes to who to trust, so it’s doubtful a direct approach is going to do much. I’ve written a fun and informative book on the basics titled Two Legged Snakes: Understanding and Handling Manipulative People to contribute to overcoming this problembut the book sales and radio shows I’ve been able to generate are attacking an oceanic size problem with a paper cup. Like a Chihuahua trying to direct a stampeding herd of wildebeests. 

 A logical long term step towards resolving this problem is to make a class such as ‘Participating in the American Political Process’ a requirement in High School. The types of manipulation that are currently the most problematic are very simple and could easily be taught to anyone who’s capable of driving a car. Speaking of cars, we require drivers to obtain a drivers license and periodically renew it, what about a voting license? A 20 question, multiple choice test could filter out voters who don’t know the first thing about methods of manipulation and are thus vulnerable to being duped by the nefarious. A simple booklet could be used to explain the basics & the test could be taken as many times as needed so any sincere voter could vote. A compulsory $2 ‘voter education’ tax could be added to our yearly filings to pay for it, easier said than done but possible.  

 Any solution to this problem is going to be difficult to implement but if it’s not confronted and we just complain about ‘dumb voters’, the foxes will continue to have too much access to the chicken coop. And that will certainly end up stepping on the toe’s of our right to the pursuit of happiness, and perhaps life and liberty as well.