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Chapter XVII - Four Kinds of Suggestion

Chapter XVII

Four Kinds of Suggestion



Mental suggestion produces its effect upon the minds of people along one or more of four general lines or paths of action. All the phenomena coming under this head may be placed in one or more of the four classes. These four paths, or lines of action, along which Mental Suggestion operates, are as follows:

1. Obedience; 2. Imitation; 3. Association; 4. Repetition. I shall now proceed to consider these four paths, or lines of action, separately, in order, and in detail. Beginning with the first mentioned line of action, let us consider:

Suggestion Through Obedience—Suggestion operating along this line consists of the induction of mental states, etc., by the agency of a positive statement, assertion, assumption, authoritative attitude, etc., which so impresses itself upon the mind of the person suggested to that he sets up no opposition or resistance, but acquiesces quietly to the suggestion made to him.

The most common form of this first method of Suggestion is seen in the very general acquiescence to real or pretended “authority” on the part of the majority of people. When such people hear a statement made, positively and in a tone of conviction, by some person in authority, they accept the statement, and the feelings arising from the accepted statement, without resistance, and without any attempt to submit the matter to the exercise of their reason. And this is true not only when the person speaking has really a right to speak authoritatively, by virtue of his knowledge, experience, wisdom, etc., but also when some pretender sets up an appearance of authority, and speaking in a positive style, assuming the “Thus saith the Lord” manner, impresses his hearers with the idea he wishes to suggest to them. And then the good folk meekly acquiesce without Question and allow their feelings to be aroused accordingly, for the feelings are generally followed by actions in accord therewith.

It is astonishing, from one point of view, to see how obedient to this form of suggestion the masses of people are. They will allow their mental states, feelings and emotion to be induced by the impudent statements, and claims of cunning, shrewd and designing men, as well as by ignorant self?deluded fanatics, who thus influence and sway them. These self?constituted authorities utter their oracular statements and opinions in a tone of absolute certainty, and the crowd takes them at their own valuation. It seems to be only necessary for some positive man to attract the attention of the people and then make some bold claim or statement, in the proper manner and tone, and with their appearance of authority, and lo! some of the people, at least, fall into line.

Did you ever think that people as a rule are “obedient animals?” Well, they are, providing you can manage to impress them with your authority. It is much easier for them to acquiesce than to refuse to do so. They find it easier to say and think “Yes” rather than “No.” Their will is not often called into action by their reason and judgment, it being too often entirely under the control of the feeling and emotional side of them. There is a fundamental law under this phase of suggestive action, and in order to find it we must go back to the beginning of the race, perhaps farther. In the earlier days among animals and men, there were natural leaders, who ruled by force of might of body or mind. These natural leaders were implicitly obeyed by the masses, who had learned by experience that it was better for the tribe, or herd, as a whole, to be governed by their strongest and sharpest?witted members. And so gradually this dominant idea of acquiescence and obedience to authority developed and became a fixture in the race?mind. And it is firmly planted in the mind of the race today, so much so that only the strongest minds are able to free themselves from it to any great extent. It is authority here, and authority there, in law, letters, religion, politics, and every other field of human endeavor. People do not begin by asking themselves: “What do I think about this matter?” but instead start off by saying: “What does So?and?So think of it?” Their “So?and?So” is their authority, who does their thinking for them, and they take their keynote from him or her. The authority induces their mental states for them.

If these leaders and authorities were really the wisest of the race, it would not matter so very much, although even then it might prevent the development of individuality in the masses. But the worst feature is that the majority of these “authorities” don’t know, and know that they don’t know, but the people haven’t found them out. They assume the manners, air, appearance, etc., of “the real thing,” and the people being accustomed to these symbols of authority, and mistaking the imitation article for the real, are impressed by the authoritative utterance and accept the suggestion.

This fact is well known to the classes that prey upon the public. The “confidence men” (in and out of the criminal class) assume this air of authority, and their suggestions are accepted by the people. They are good actors—that is one of the requisites of the suggestionist, and these people understand the law. They proceed upon the theory accredited to Aaron Burr—that remark, you may remember, was that “the law is that which is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.” And so these folk keep on “boldly asserting,” and “plausibly maintaining,” and find that “it generally goes.” To see a principle in its naked simplicity one should look for its operation in extreme instances. And the extreme instance in this case is the hypnotic “subject” who has surrendered his judgment entirely to the mind of the operator. The “subject” will acquiesce in the most absurd suggestions from the operator and proceed to carry them into effect. And suggestion, you know, is the active factor in hypnotism, the hypnotic condition being only a psychological condition in which the effect of suggestion is heightened.

But one does not have to go to the ranks of the somnambules for striking illustrations, for such are to be found in all walks of life among people who have no individuality of their own, but who seem to live and act entirely upon the “say so” of others. They have no quality of initiative, but must always be told just what to do, and how to do it, by others. These people will accept almost any kind of suggestion, if made by others in an authoritative tone and manner. They do not have to be persuaded by argument, but are fairly driven and ordered to do things by stronger?willed persons. They are impressionable and “sensitive,” and seem to have no wills of their own. These people are very suggestible, and every day’s history records many startling cases of the effect of suggestion through acquiescence on the part of such people.

The key-note of this form of Suggestion is a positive statement or command, given with the air and appearance of authority. The secret of the effect is the tendency upon the part of the majority of people to acquiesce in an authoritative statement or command, rather than to dispute it, and the tendency toward thinking “Yes” rather than “No!” This form of suggestion is to be observed in the highest degree among those who have always depended upon others for orders, or instruction, and who have not had to “use their own wits” and resources in life. Unskilled laborers and the sons of rich men belong to this class as a rule. These people seem to need someone to do their thinking for them, even in the smallest events of their lives, and are most suggestible along these lines.

Then the degree of suggestibility along these lines decreases as we ascend among people who have had to “do things” for themselves, and who have not depended upon others so much. It is the slightest among people who have had the ordering of others to do, or who have had to depend upon their own wits in getting through life—the men of marked degree of initiative have scarcely a trace of this form of suggestibility. “Initiative,” you know, is a term for “doing things without being told”— using one’s own wits and resources—the true “American Spirit” (which so many Americans lack).

The degree of power in giving this form of suggestion depends materially upon the development of will on the part of the suggestor, and also upon his assumption of the appearance, manners, air and tone of authority, the latter requisites being the outward symbols. If one has the Will?Power strongly developed, the symbols will appear of themselves as a natural consequence. But to those who have not the developed Will?Power, and whose authority is more or less “counterfeit,” the assumption of the outward symbols becomes a matter of great importance, and these people devote much study to the cultivation of these outward forms. And these “counterfeit” symbols—the art of the actor—serve their purpose to impress and suggest to the crowd, and their assumers set up a very brave front and obtain a very fair degree of success in the part they are acting—that is, until they come in contact with a man of real Will?Power, when they gracefully retire after the first clash of mentative swords.

To those who are negative and who are too susceptible to this form of suggestion, I advise the cultivation of Will?Power, which will be fully taught in the later chapters of this book, entitled “Mental Architecture,” etc. Nothing but the cultivation of the will will render one positive and impervious to suggestive influences of this sort.

The second line of action of Mental Suggestion is that called: Suggestion Through Imitation—This form of Mental Suggestion is very common—perhaps the most common of all the forms. Man is essentially an imitative animal. He is always copying the actions, appearances and ideas of others, thereby going to prove his descent from the monkey?like ancestors, in whom this trait of character was largely developed. Personally, I believe that those traits of imitation may be traced back to the early days of the race, or before, when animals and men were in a wild state, and exposed to constant danger of attack of enemies. Then a motion of fright on the part of one would be communicated to the others of the tribe, and gradually the trait of instinctive imitation was developed, the traces of which are still strongly with the race, even to this day. We may find instances of this trait all around us. When we watch a tight?rope walker, our bodies instinctively sway in imitative motion. When we watch the faces of actors on the stage, our own faces work in sympathy, more or less. And so it goes on all around us, and in us—ever the tendency toward imitation. Children manifest a great degree of this trait and copy and acquire the mannerisms of those around to a surprising degree of detail.

This form of Mental Suggestion is very common. People are constantly taking up the suggestion of the mental states, feelings, and emotions of those around them, and reproducing them in their own acts. The majority of people are like human sheep, who will follow a leader everywhere and along all sorts of paths. Let the old bell?wether jump over a rail, and every sheep in the flock will do likewise—and they will keep on jumping over the same place, at the same height, even if the rail be removed before the whole flock gets over. We are constantly doing things simply because other people do them. We are constantly aping after others. In our fashions, styles, forms, etc., we are servile imitators. Larry Hehr shows a vest button hung by a thread and all the young apes in the land follow suit. Funny! isn’t it?

This law of imitation plays an important part in the phenomena of Mental Suggestion along these lines. Somebody does a certain thing and at once other people take up the suggestion and copy the original actor. Let the newspaper record a certain crime and many others of the same type follow closely after. Let there be a suicide, and many others follow, usually adopting the same methods. Let there be a number of cases of some kind of folly and dissipation, and immediately there is “an epidemic” of the same thing. Let the papers say much about the appearance of a new disease, and at once a number of people manifest symptoms of it. Diseases get to be quite the fashion in this way. The feelings and emotions of the instinctive part of the mind are called into sympathetic action along the lines of imitative suggestion, and physical effects follow shortly after.

Shrewd men take advantage of this tendency of the human mind, and, by getting a few people interested in certain things, they manage to set the fashion, and the crowd follows like sheep. Get people talking about a thing, and the contagion spreads until everybody is interested in the matter. The majority of people are more or less susceptible to this form of suggestion, the degree depending upon their habit of thinking, judging and acting for themselves. The man or woman who has ideas of his, or her, own, is not so apt to be impressed by every wave of popular fashion, style and thought as those who maintain a more negative attitude toward the minds of others.

The method of curing an undue tendency toward imitative action is to start in to build up your individuality, and to develop positivity, along the lines mentioned in the concluding chapters of this book. The third line of action of Mental Suggestion is:

Suggestion Through Association—This form of Mental Suggestion is very common. It is based upon the acquired impressions of the race, by which certain words, actions, manners, tones, appearances, etc., are associated with certain previously experienced mental states. Mental States take form in physical action and expression, as we know. A man feeling in a certain way is apt to express himself by certain actions or in certain words. These actions and words thus become symbols of the mental state producing them, and consequently they produce upon the mind of the person seeing or hearing them the mental image connected with that mental state. And this mental image is calculated to induce a similar or corresponding state in the mind of the person seeing and hearing. So that these symbols are really Mental Suggestions, since they tend to induce mental states.

I wish to remind you that every written, printed or spoken word, or words, is the outward and physical expression of some inner mental state of the person uttering or writing the words.

The words are the “outward and visible signs” of an “inward feeling”—remember this always. Mere words, in themselves, have no suggestive value—the value depends upon the meaning impressed upon them by the mind of the person using them accompanied by an understanding of their meaning by the person hearing or reading them. The word “horror,” for instance, or “uncanny,” has a definite meaning to persons familiar with it. It bears a direct relation to a mental feeling, or emotion, and is the physical and outward expression of the same. One may say the word over and over again to a person who has never heard it, or to one of another race who does not understand the term, and no suggestive effect follows. But speak the word to one who is accustomed to connect and associate it with a definite feeling that they have experienced, and the feeling will be produced, or “induced,” if the circumstances of the use of the word be favorable. The word “love,” used properly, will awaken in the mind of its hearers feelings corresponding with the term. And these feelings must have been experienced before, either directly or indirectly, before they may be induced by suggestion. Feelings experienced by one’s ancestors leave a record in one’s subconscious mentality, which may also be induced by the appropriate suggestion.

Personally, words seem to me to be like the wax record of a phonograph. The record is covered with minute impressions produced by the sound?waves entering the phonograph. Place this record in its place in the phonograph and start the latter in motion and lo! the minute impressions on the record will reproduce or “induce” in the diaphragm the same kind of sound?waves that originally caused the impressions. In this way a word, which is the physical symbolic record of feeling, will produce its associated feeling in the mind of the person hearing or reading it.

And, as I have said, the feeling produced will depend largely upon the understanding of the meaning of the word held by the person receiving the impression. For instance, in the case of the word “love,” let us suppose that the term is strongly and feelingly suggested to a number of persons at the same time, and in the same way. You will find that the feeling induced in the one person will be that of love of parents; in another love of children; in another love of husband or wife; in another love of God; in another an exalted affection for some person of the opposite sex; in another the low animal passion for one of the other sex; and so on, each experiencing a feeling occasioned by his or her association of the word with some feeling previously entertained. The same word may induce a feeling of the greatest pleasure in one person, and the greatest horror or disgust in another—the difference depending upon the association of the word in the mind of the two persons.

I have dwelt upon these facts in order to make clear to you that there is no magic power in words in themselves, and that all their force and effect depends upon the associated feeling of which they are the crystallized physical and outward former symbol. The word is the body—the feeling is its soul.

And so it is with the suggestion of appearance, manner, surrounding, etc. Each of these depends for force and effect upon some accustomed association with some inner feeling, which feeling is reproduced or induced by the outward symbol of the thing. We associate certain things with certain feelings, and when we see these things we are apt to experience the feeling indicated. People have been overcome by the sight of a picture, or a scene in a play—a song—a poem—or suggestive music.

And here is where the art of the suggestionist comes into play. He watches closely and discovers that certain words, tones, manners, appearances, actions, motions, etc., are associated in the minds of people with certain feelings and ideas. And so when he wishes to reproduce, produce, or induce in others these ideas or feelings, he simply reproduces the associated physical symbols, in words, manner, motion, or appearance, and the effect is produced. The conjurer makes certain motions with his hands which you have always associated with certain actions, and you feel that the action itself has been performed— but the conjurer omits the action, and you are fooled. The “confidence man” assumes the appearance, manners and actions which you have always associated with certain qualities of character and you feel that he is what he seems to be—but he isn’t, and you are fooled. This “play?acting” of people is all a form of suggestion, and you are fooled because you accept the symbol for the reality, unless you understand the game. The actor assumes the actions, tones, dress and words of certain characters, and if he is a good actor you forget the reality and laugh and weep, and otherwise feel that what you see is reality, although you really know underneath it all that it is only a play.

And all this is mental suggestion remember. Remember, now and always, that a mental suggestion operates by the presentation of the outward symbol associated with the feeling to be induced. Put the right record in the phonograph and the corresponding sound is produced or induced. Do you see? This law underlies all the phenomena of Mental Suggestion—understand the law of suggestion and you have the master?key to the phenomena.

Oratory, and other forms of appeal to the feeling by spoken words, gives us a typical example of the operation of this form of Mental Suggestion. The orator; the lawyer; the preacher; each uses words calculated to induce mental states, feelings and emotions, in the minds of his hearers. Such a one soon begins to learn the suggestive value of words, tones, and expression. He avoids the use of cold, abstract words, and drifts into the use of those which are symbols for deep feeling and emotion, knowing that these word symbols uttered with the proper tone and expression will induce the feelings for which they stand in the minds of the hearers. The hearers’ emotions and feelings are played upon, in this way, like an instrument. The emotion or passion, whether it be love, fear, hate, greed, patriotism, courage, jealousy, sympathy, etc., etc., is awakened by the skillful use of the words, tones, and expression which stand as symbols for these feelings.

If you will remember how you were touched by an address that afterward seemed to you to be hyperbolic and flamboyant—without argument, proof or sense—then you will realize how you were made the subject of Mental Suggestion through association. The skillful salesman operates upon you in the same way. So does his twin brother, the advertising man.

The revivalist has this art reduced to a perfect science.

Words—words—words—inciters to action; inducers of feeling; symbol of mental states, and reproducers of mental states—despise them not; sneer not at them, for they have brought down low the mightiest of minds, when properly used. Even when written, their potency is great. Countries have often been made captive by a clever phrase, which when analyzed meant nothing in reason—merely an awakener of feeling. Let me make the catch-phrases of a country, and I care not who makes its laws! The man best adapted to employ this form of suggestion is he who is more or less of an actor—that is, who possesses the faculty of throwing “expression” and “feeling” into words, actions and manner. Good orators, pleaders, salesmen, and others have this faculty largely developed. It belongs to the feminine side of the phenomena, for it has the “charming,” drawing, leading aspect, and works by the employment of the emotive?pole of mentation, rather the will or motive pole, as in the case of the first mentioned phase of suggestion—that of authoritative statement or command. It operates not by beating down the will of the other person, but rather by inducing a sympathetic rhythm of feeling and emotion, which overpowers his own will, and causes it to act accordingly.

One should ever be on guard against this kind of influence. The best way to escape it, is to adopt the policy of never acting immediately in response to an appeal of this kind. Rather wait until the effect has worn off, and then submit the matter to the consideration of your reason and judgment. Of course, the cultivation of will-power will act as a shield or armor, protecting you from the subtle vibrations of this kind, for this form of suggestion is usually accompanied by strong mentative currents from the mind of the speaker. Fence yourself off from a too ready response to sympathetic appeals along the emotional lines. Let the head stand by the heart, ready to prevent its running away with you.

Men should have the reason in the ascendant, not the emotional nature. When you feel yourself being carried off of your feet, by some emotional excitement, steady yourself and ask your mind this question: is this a mental suggestion?” The question will tend to bring you to your state of equilibrium. When you know what a Mental Suggestion is, then you wilt learn to recognize them, and be on the lookout for them. This state of mind will act as a strong neutralizing agent for the most skillfully put suggestion. Have your torpedo nets out, no matter how secure you may imagine yourself to be. One caution more—be especially cautious, and slow to accept a suggestion when you are worn?out, tired, or in a passive, pleasurable state—that is, whenever your will is resting; or else exhausted. On these occasions, “when in doubt, say No!” You will save yourself much regret by remembering this bit of advice. It is based on a proven psychological law. I have learned this law by bitter personal experience. Remember it!

Let us consider the fourth line of action of Mental Suggestion:

Suggestion Through Repetition—This form of Mental Suggestion is quite common, and the study of its manifestations is quite interesting, for it brings into operation a well known psychological principle, which has its correspondences in the physical world—“constant dripping will wear away the hardest stone.”

You know the story of the man who told his favorite lie so often that he believed it himself! Well this is a psychological fact. People have started in to make a certain appearance of truth, in words, or manner, by assuming something to be true that was not so. Then they kept on repeating the thing, adding a little here, and a little there, until the thing got to be “a fixed idea” with them, and they actually believe it. And if a person can suggest himself into accepting a false belief in this way, you can see how it will operate on others.

The secret of the operation of this form of suggestion lies in the psychological facts of weakened resistance through repetition of the “attack,” and the “force of habit.” The first time an unaccustomed suggestion is made, the mind sets up an active resistance; but the next time it is presented, the suggestion is not quite so unfamiliar as before, and a lessened resistance is set up; and so on, until at last no resistance is interposed, and the Suggestion is accepted. You know the old verse:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
That, to be hated, needs but to be seen.
But seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

And this rule holds good with suggestions. We first resist them; then endure them; then accept them—unless we understand the law.

The psychological fact involved in this form of suggestion is that impressions upon brain?cells become deepened by constant repetition. It is like sinking a die into a cake of wax—it goes deeper at each pressure. The mind is very apt to accept as true anything that it finds deeply impressed upon its records. It has become accustomed to finding these deep impressions only when they have been made by repeated efforts of its own intellect, or judgment, or experience, and so when it finds these deep impressions that have been placed there by repeated Suggestions of others, it is not apt to discriminate. It finds itself “feeling” these things that have been repeatedly impressed upon it. Like the cuckoo’s egg in the robin’s nest, these illegitimate mental impressions are nurtured as one’s “very own.”

There is a constant struggle for existence upon the part of the ideas, or mental images impressed upon me. The strong crowd out the weak. And in the majority of cases, the strongest ones are those which have either been impressed in a vivid manner, or else by repetition. The second time you meet a man, you may have trouble in remembering him; but the third time it is easier; and so on, until at last you forget that he ever was a stranger. And so it is with these suggested ideas—you grow familiar with them through repetition; they lose their strangeness to you; and at last you cease to concern yourself about them. A strange thing is generally inspected, examined, viewed suspiciously, etc., but after the strangeness has worn off you cease to exercise the former caution. “Familiarity breeds contempt.” and also lack of caution. Suggestion gains force by each repetition. This is one of the fundamental laws of suggestion, and one that all should remember. If you would take mental stock of yourself, you would find that you entertain a vast number of feelings, ideas and opinions, which you possess simply through this law of repeated suggestion. You have heard certain things affirmed, over and over again, until you have come to accept them as veritable facts, notwithstanding that you possess not the slightest personal knowledge of any logical proof, concerning them. Shrewd moulders of public opinion employ this law, and constantly repeat a certain thing, in varying words and style, until at last the public accepts it as a proven and unquestioned fact.

Many a man has gained a reputation for wisdom, merely because his friends repeatedly affirmed it, and the public accepted the suggestion. Many a statesman has had a reputation built up for him by friendly newspaper correspondents, whose constantly repeated suggestions have caused the idea to crystallize into a material form in the public mind. And many a reputation has been destroyed by the repeated shrugs, sneers, and insinuations of gossips and evil?wishers.

Advertisers understand this law, and keep the repeated suggestion of the merit of their wares constantly before the public mind, until it becomes gospel with the people. “If at first you don’t succeed,” and “Never take No! for an answer,” are two axioms very dear to the heart of the man who uses suggestion “in his business.” Do not be deceived by this subtle form of suggestion. Do not imagine that an untrue thing becomes true because it is repeated often. Do not allow your judgment to be lulled to sleep by this drowsy repetition of the slumber?song. Keep awake— keep awake! An understanding of this law of suggestion will throw light on many things that have puzzled you heretofore.

Think over it a bit, when you have time.


Page last modified on Monday 21 of January, 2013 03:42:03 MST

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