On Suggestibility

According to Gurdjieff, the question of suggestibility requires special attention from anyone wishing to approach real self-knowledge. To be alive is to be influenced, but why are we so easily led first in one direction and then the other? These and other books address this question. They come highly recommended, but are not sold on this site.

Robert B. Cialdini
The Psychology of Persuasion

The subject of how people influence each other is older than the Torah and as recent as the last meal we ate. Why did poor Adam allow Eve to influence him in that way, talking him into eating the apple? And why did I just consume that "low-fat" cereal? We are all influenced, and, not uncommonly, are manipulated. This author breaks this complex subject down into digestible portions that reveal how readily we are led in one or another direction, and also how very mechanically this takes place. There are principles that "compliance practitioners," as the author calls them, know, intellectually or instinctively. Due to these universal principles, we are manipulated in scores of instances. We need to begin to understand the factors in our own natures that make this possible. Few forms of knowledge are as as practical as the lessons taught in this book. As always, before change is possible, we need self-knowledge.

Irving L. Janis

Although this book is somewhat scholarly, the field of study remains of interest. Janis studied a number of decision-making groups at high governmental levels, including those involved in the "Bay of Pigs" fiasco and the escalation of the Vietnam War. What is revealed here is the extraordinary tendency for even the brightest and shrewdest among us to engage in "groupthink," or "the psychological drive for consensus at any cost." By now, we should all have some "confrontative data" on this feature of our collective nature. The underlying question relates to the need to question oneself and attempt to see all of the forces that impel us to agree, and to disagree. This book is currently out of print.

Eric Hoffer
The True Believer

In The True Believer, Eric Hoffer examines a type of person whose attachment to beliefs depends less on the content of a given belief than on the fervor experienced in relation to it. In other words, it is not the principle of "socialism" or the need to cut taxes that is central, but rather the passion experienced in holding views containing sweeping "answers." In the middle of the last century, Hoffer noticed left-wing true believers shifting orientations to become right-wing true believers, without hesitating at a midpoint in between the two extremes. Thus Hoffer shed light on shadowy zones within the inner lives of all of us. At times we all fail to question whether we have opinions or, conversely, opinions have us. Feeling ourselves flying on the wings of Truth, we fall into patterns of belief similar to those discovered in sociology texts, the daily newspaper, and Eric Hoffer's book.

Stanley Milgram
Obedience to Authority

Stanley Milgram's famous studies of "compliance" responded to questions arising after the Nazi Holocaust: how could those staffing the camps have done this? Were they psychologically maimed individuals, or approximately like...us? Using paid actors dressed in white lab coats, Milgram measured how far ordinary people could be pressed to inflict pain on others. At first glance, the relevance of these studies for spiritually inclined individuals may not be obvious. However, the more we learn about ourselves, the more we recognize a deep undertow of suggestibility in our lives, in and out of situations in which "leaders" and "followers" conform to both spoken and unspoken expectations and demands.