Monday, October 27, 2014

The Power of Anecdotes

In addition to the Mo Letters and Bible that provided our mental sustenance, we were regularly fed a side dish of anecdotes, which we called “testimonies.” Such stories were particularly helpful in reinforcing the idea of meaning behind all things. Stories are, by nature, easy to remember, so they can play a big role in feeding the availability heuristic.

In society at large, anecdotes are used everyday in advertising and all types of media. This is a two-edged sword because they are so memorable. Problems can arise because the first thing we tend to forget about information we hear is its source. Disturbingly, the second thing we forget is whether it is true or not.

"I remember something about apples and cyanide... What was it? Well, to be safe, I won't buy apples." 

The Family used testimonies to appeal to the emotions of its members and increase the feeling of team spirit. Although not necessarily well-written, and with an over-generous use of exclamation marks, these vivid accounts of "miracles" were published regularly and were a part of our required reading. 

This was a perfect platform for subjective validation, where these stories were perceived to be completely true because they spoke so meaningfully to our faith. We could see the spiritual workings behind the scenes in action – the cause and effect that fit perfectly with our beliefs. No doubt these testimonies were, perhaps even unwittingly, tailor-made to fit, conform to, and reinforce, our predetermined ideas.

They served as precedents for future expectations, built up the faith of group members to "expect miracles" themselves, provided a means of social norming, made members want to emulate the behavior of the ones in the stories, and even gave people a little claim-to-fame and social approval if they were fortunate enough to have one of their testimonies published for all.

These testimonies were not only in written form but were a regular part of group meetings, with members coming up with "inspiring" stories of events that happened during their days of proselytizing, told with excitement and animation, and raising the enthusiasm levels of the group to work harder for our cause.

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