Toastmasters Speech #4 - Watch out, you're being manipulated

A long, long time ago, there was a prosperous Romanian village. Some of the villagers were working in the plains, growing golden fields of grains that would wave in the wind. Other villagers were raising cattle and herding them to graze the peaceful green pastures. Others were fishing in the long lazy river that cut through the village with its crystalline waters. And everyone was happy.

One morning, a stranger came into the village. He was carrying a shiny trumpet, and he made a very annoying noise while blowing into it. A few villagers approached him and asked him why he carried that trumpet, and why he annoyed everyone with its sound. The stranger responded, "You have all lived happily in this village, but you have no idea what lies outside its borders. Do you know about tigers? They are very dangerous and bloody animals. A tiger will see a herd of cows, kill 20 of them, but will only eat one. He will carry the biggest, heaviest cow with little effort over hills and mountains, then devour it alone. Nobody who ever got into a fight with a tiger, lived to tell about it. Tigers kill men mercilessly, rip their arms and legs apart, then carry their bodies away where nobody can find their bones to give them a proper burial. Everybody runs away in fear when they hear the roar of the tiger. But my fellow villagers, this shiny trumpet I carry with me is magical: if I play it every morning, it will keep tigers away. As you see, I am all well and healthy, and I have all my limbs with me", said the stranger, turning around so that the villagers could see he was in one piece.

"Listen to my offer", the stranger continued. "I will be happy to live in your village and play my magical trumpet for you. It will protect you from tigers and you will only have to pay me a small fee".

The villagers were frightened by the stranger's words. They were all peaceful people, working in the fields, raising cattle, or fishing, and none of them knew anything about tigers. So they decided it was better to listen to the stranger and pay him to play his annoying trumpet every day.

Many years passed, and the stranger got rich from the daily payments he collected from the villagers. He had arrived to the village with only his loud shiny trumpet, but now he lived in a luxurious palace and he had many servants. He would still play the trumpet every morning, and indeed, no tigers had ever attacked the village.

One morning, a young man returned to the village. He had gone to school in a city far away. His parents welcomed him back, but the first thing he wanted, was to talk to the rich trumpet-playing stranger who now owned a palace and had many servants. The young man and his parents started walking to the palace, and other villagers joined them, curious. But the young man would say nothing about his intentions. Once they reached the palace, the young man asked the stranger to come out and talk. The young man said:

"For years and years now, we have paid you to play your annoying trumpet every morning. We thought it would protect our village from tigers. But as I went to school in the city, I learned that there are no tigers in our country! In fact there are no tigers at all in the entire continent!"

The stranger was unbelievably happy! He replied: "My fellow villagers, see, here you have undeniable proof that my magical trumpet works, even beyond the borders of this village!"

Fellow Toastmasters, how many of you have received offers to protect against identity theft? They all want a small fee every month to protect you against some great danger. But the fact is, the law protects you against that already. Moreover, surveys in the USA from 2003 to 2006 showed a decrease in the total number of victims. They also showed a decrease in the total value of identity fraud from US$47.6 billion in 2003 to $15.6 billion in 2006. The average fraud per person decreased from $4,789 in 2003 to $1,882 in 2006 (source: FTC). Let me put this again: over three years, ID theft decreased about three times. And these statistics were as of 2006. If the trend continued, we have even less identity theft now.

And there are many more examples:

  • The National Rifle Association keeps citing the fear of burglary to promote legal possession of assault guns. However, bullets fired from such guns penetrate not only a burglar, but 6 dry-walls easily, potentially harming neighbors or pedestrians outside; a normal rifle would suffice for burglars.
  • Frozen vegetables are less nutritious than fresh ones, right? Wrong! Fresh vegetables take days or weeks to travel from the field to your table, and during this time, they lose nutrients. Frozen vegetables get frozen hours after harvesting and stay so. While frozen, nutrients are preserved (source: Australian Food and Grocery Council).
  • "Microwave ovens kill nutrients in food." Wrong again. Studies at Cornell University showed that spinach preserves all its folate when cooked ina microwave, but loses 77% of it when cooked in a stove. They also found that bacon cooked by microwave is significantly less carcinogenic than conventionally cooked bacon. When it comes to vegetables, adding water can greatly accelerate the loss of nutrients. One study published in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture in 2003 found that broccoli cooked by microwave - and immersed in water - loses about 74 percent to 97 percent of its antioxidants. When steamed or cooked without water, the broccoli retained most of its nutrients.

The lesson here is simple: we are all humans. We all fear the unknown, and are ready to protect against it at important costs. However, that's also one of our weak spots. If we don't do our homework, we may end up believing whatever we are told when we are afraid. Be on guard for scare tactics and fear mongering. Next time someone tries to frighten you with some scary story, watch out.

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