The effect of words

“When we wish to correct with advantage and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.”

“Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings differently arranged have different effects.”

(Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 9, 23.)

In the summer after my plebe year at West Point, I went to a house party in Charlelottesville, Virginia. During the festivities one of my buddies let it be known that I could hypnotize people. This was met with a very skeptical response which I, of course, took as a challenge.

There were about twenty upper-middle-class DC-area students, ages 19-20, and a side group of 10, high-and-tight-shaven West Point cadets from all parts.  When I said, “who wants to be hypnotized”, I had all ears. I told them that through hypnosis I could make anyone see or believe anything I told them. They didn’t believe me.

I selected two of several volunteers to show them what’s what. The one I remember most was a girl, she must have been 19, I think her name was Ann.  We sat down at a table and the other college kids gathered around. I walked her through a basic induction that I had learned in high school from my dad’s clinical hypnosis manuals, which he kept in an open dusty box under the stairs.

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