The Art of Confusion - The Socratic Method

There is a method of teaching called the Socratic method that involves asking the student a series of questions designed to lead to a predetermined conclusion. The student is expected to think about each question and try to reach the answer on their own. The process of thinking through each question not only gives the student the final answer but also trains the mind in the process of thinking through a problem. It is a participatory form of learning and when done properly can add an extra dimension over the pure lecturing form of teaching.

We often see Jesus use this type of teaching in the Gospels. For example, Jesus asks His disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" The disciples gave a series of answers, and then Jesus asked them, "But whom say ye that I am?" By His use of this method, the Master Teacher gives a legitimacy to it, and we can feel correct in using this method too when appropriate.

However, as with so many things, the Socratic method can become a form of manipulation. To begin with, whoever is asking the questions inherently guides the discussion in a direction they wish to pursue. Questions that might lead to a contrary conclusion are simply not asked. Furthermore, the series of questions appears perfectly logical, and the conclusion likewise seems inevitable. This is not always the truth, however, and it takes a quick thinker to spot the flaws in the reasoning while his mind is busy with the answers to a series of difficult questions. Most importantly, this type of teaching inherently places the questioner in a superior position. If an ambiguous question is asked, the questioner can always respond with, "Well, that is an interesting answer, but not the one I had in mind." The result is that the person who answered appears to have "missed" the answer even though they gave a correct one. It is also possible to shift the line of questioning depending on the answer so that it appears that the questioner had it all figured out in advance. In this way, a person can appear to be teaching when in fact they are really interrogating someone to discover what they know. Be very wary of someone who pursues this type of question and answer dialog. They may have a legitimate reason, but they also may not.

This type of manipulation is a sophisticated form of spiritual attack. When used masterfully, it can cause a person to become confused, disoriented, even appear contradictory in their answers. When that state of confusion is reached, a person can be easily implanted with a false idea. In fact, the whole series of questions can include an implied set of answers that gets the mind thinking along certain lines. This makes it even easier to mislead someone into falsehood. At the very least, the person begins to feel like they are stupid and needs to rely on someone else to guide them.

This is a very dangerous situation to be in. The mind is confused, possibly angry, and open to suggestion. In that state of confusion it is nearly impossible to clearly hear the word of the Lord speaking to you. Nothing seems to make sense and the conflicting ideas in the mind make it difficult to know what is right and what is wrong. A person in that state may sense that something is wrong, but can't quite figure it out. Sometimes, this will cause that person to get drawn even deeper into the manipulation in an effort to get to an answer. Other times, a person will respond with blind anger and frustration. If you ever reach that point in a discussion with someone, GET UP AND LEAVE! This will take a great deal of self-control. The tendency is for the ego to get involved. We don't want to appear to have lost the argument or failed to understand, and will stubbornly persist in the discussion. If necessary, create an excuse to get out of there and give yourself time to calm down and think clearly. For example, you might say, "Well, this is very interesting, and I would like to continue, but right now I have to be somewhere else. Perhaps we can continue this later." I'm not implying that you should employ some deception here. This type of statement is absolutely true in that situation! When someone is trying to manipulate you, and you can't handle it, you need to be somewhere else.

There are several other techniques that can be used against this type of manipulation. If you will read the places in the Gospels where Jesus had dialogs with the Pharisees, you can learn how the Lord often turned these types of situations to His advantage. Learn from the Master, and be "wise as serpents and gentle as doves."


Bookmark and Share