Context matters. A person at a college football game is unlikely to rip off their clothes and go streaking across the field. It happens, sure, but not whimsically. Streaking is premeditated. How else do they write such witty comments on their bum? But that person might rage. They might tear down the goalposts. They might set a couch on fire. Mobs are infectious.
Music is too. Turn on some good music. The context has changed the person.
In a Betwixt the Sheets episode, Maria Konnikova talks about her 2016 book, The Confidence Game (Konnikova is one of my favorite non-fiction authors). She notes that con observers typically don’t understand. Too often we say that would never happen to me.
But a con artist changes the context. “What we don’t understand” (looking at cons from the outside), Maria says, “is that objectivity goes away when we are emotionally involved. The first thing a good con artist does is get you emotionally involved in the story so that your ‘red flag spotter’ turns off.”
My wife’s grandmother lived to ninety one. She was a collector – of junk. Marketed in small-ish magazines sent directly to her house, she bought statues with American flags and coins and bobbles. She bought “limited edition” coins. She musta had fifty porcelain elephants. Her purchases were emotional: sentimentality, patriotism, greed.
She was a shrewd woman. Sharp too. Her eighty-fifth birthday was an open house and we spent much of the day eating and laughing with her. I was amazed at her observations. She lived through the depression. She worked on a farm. She had nine kids. She outlived some. She was tough, not an easy mark. She was conned.
Her chotskies were just the artifacts. Family used her too.
In business there’s an expression: you set the price and I’ll set the terms. You can charge any price if I can pay it whenever, however, and with whatever. Cons are similar: you set the mindset and I’ll set the context.
Eliud Kipchoge is the greatest marathoner ever – so far. In a New York Times piece, he is quoted “Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.”
Con artists change the context which changes the mood. Their victims are emotionally involved. My grandmother-in-law was emotionally involved. Discipline is a buffer. Contexts change, emotions rise, but discipline remains.