When I listed a property for sale on Craigslist, I received a few bona fide inquiries along with lots of replies from scammers. At first I took the scammers seriously and engaged with them until it was obvious their inquiry was illicit. After a while it was easy to distinguish between honest people and con men.
One day I received a scam inquiry that was unusually long and complicated. The supposed buyer wove a lengthy tale about why I should turn the property over to him before he paid, and blah, blah, blah. As soon as I smelled the ruse, I realized it would be a waste of my time to read another word, and I just pressed “delete.”
This interaction symbolizes how we can deal with the ranting of the ego, ours or others. The ego, as A Course in Miracles explains, is, by nature, a scam. It is a false limiting identity and world view based on illusions. It tells us that we are separate from God and each other, we are limited to our body, and that attack, defense, and conflict are the ways to gain happiness and success. None of this is true, but the ego goes on and on and on about why we should follow its bloody dictates.
When we encounter someone who is absorbed in their ego, we do them and ourselves no service by engaging with them at the level of illusion. If they are upset or attacking us, they are in fear (“Hurt people hurt people”) and the answer to fear is not more fear or attack, but love. To not engage with fear is to heal it by removing the reinforcement of attention. Country wisdom tells, “Never wrestle with a pig. The pig likes it, and you both get dirty.” Not to identify a person as a pig, but to recognize that the part of them that wants to duke it out is not the part you choose to meet.
Native American folk lore tells of a brave who came to the tribe’s medicine man and told him, “Two wolves are continually fighting in my head. One of them is kind, beautiful and sane. The other is ugly, vicious and crazy. Which one will win?”
The elder replied, “The sane one will win.”
“Why is that?” asked the brave.
“Because that is the one you will feed,” answered the medicine man.
A college behavioral psychology class did an experiment that proved this principle. The class professor had a habit of pacing back and forth in front of the classroom while he lectured. When the professor stood on the left side of the classroom, the students paid attention to him, took notes, asked questions and laughed at his jokes. When the professor stood on the right side of the classroom, the students looked away, did not engage with the lesson and ignored the teacher. It was not long before the professor was teaching strictly from the left side of the classroom.
When someone attacks or tries to scam you, they are standing on the right side of the classroom, and that is the time to withdraw your attention and energy from them. When they engage you in a kind and meaningful way, that’s the time to empower them. You are sending them the message, “If you care to speak to me intelligently and respectfully, I will be happy to interact with you. Otherwise, I will not respond. I do not engage with people who abuse me.” You might actually speak these words, or you might simply let the principle quietly be your guide. If you are true to it, you will get results.
“Denial” has become something of a dirty word in pop psychology and recovery circles because so many people have been in denial of their self-defeating patterns and addictions. In this sense, denial is indeed a process to be illuminated and healed. Yet, there is a form of positive denial that we need to employ if we are to advance in our personal and spiritual growth. It is to deny credibility, attention and power to illusions, lies, thoughts, behaviors, events and people that would hurt us. When you deny an illusion, you affirm the truth. You can’t have both living in your house at the same time (although we have all tried).
One more note: Be equally willing to ignore, deny and withdraw reinforcement from your own ego games, attacks and scams. When you go crazy, don’t get involved with your own drama. Be as vigilant to refuse to engage with your own crazy self as you are vigilant to refuse to engage with the insanity of others.
The next time you smell a scam or the hint of one – from your own mind or someone else’s – press “delete” before you become enmeshed. There are lots of wonderful, powerful, uplifting, rewarding, and inspiring conversations you could be experiencing instead. For those, simply press “save.”