A man came to my door yesterday afternoon, asking for money. That happens fairly often here in
I said that he was asking for money, but to tell the truth, he never got around to telling me what exactly it was that he wanted. I left the security door bolted so I could see out, but he couldn’t see (or get) in. He was very agitated and was talking a mile a minute, but at the same time he wasn't as unkempt as some door-to-door people we get around here.
He began his story by saying that he had a big problem and he needed my help. According to him, he and his two kids lived “in the house at the end of the lane” and he had a babysitter who was supposed to show up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2 – 5 in the afternoon. Before he went on, I told him flat out that I was acquainted with everyone on our lane, that I had never seen him before, and that I knew for a fact that none of my lane neighbors had kids. He quickly backtracked and said that actually, he lived to the left, in a house. Then he started telling me how one of his kids had acid reflux disease – had I ever heard of it? Anyway, he could really use my help. Then there was a big, silent pause. I can only assume that he was waiting for me to open the door.
Of course I didn’t. Besides a gut feeling that this guy was up to no good, or at the very least not telling the truth, I remembered a thing or two from the book The Gift of Fear. The general, underlying principle of that book is that in most fight-or-flight situations, you can trust your gut more than your mind. And if you take a look at what he said (or if you listened to it in real time, as I did), it all seems to make sense.
But think again. One of the things The Gift of Fear taught me (that I didn’t already know) is that when predators of any kind lie, they add in extra details so that their lies ring truer. What they don’t realize is that their lie only sounds like a lie to themselves – most of their listeners will be inclined to take what they say at face value. The extra details actually make what they say sound less credible to our ears.
So a man who was telling me the truth would probably have said something like, “Hi. You don’t know me, but I live nearby. My babysitter didn’t show up and for some reason I also need to share with you the seemingly unrelated information that my son has acid reflux disease.”
That’s all there is to it. No unnecessarily specific babysitter schedule, confusion about what house he lived in, or awkward, unnatural house directions like “left” (that doesn’t make sense in the particular area where we live). You’ll notice that in all the talking he actually did, he never got around to telling me what he needed. I found out from a neighbor later that he was asking for $30 for medication for the aforementioned son. She referred him to the large medical complex next to the hospital extension just down the street.
I wish I had thought of that.