I am kind of a push-over. And a bit of a people-pleaser. And easy to guilt-trip. And sorta naive.
So, I have been conned more than once.
This has led me to examine the methods used by con-artists to con me. I have noticed these methods being used on others, also. I thought I'd give y'all a little heads-up, based on my observations over the years. This post is also a warning to myself, for I fear being conned again in the future. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if I am currently being conned. But, anyway...
First of all, con artists are friendly. The bad ones are overly-friendly, thus they are not quite so successful. The good ones, though, are friendly in just the right amount. They retain some self-respect and even a tad of aloofness in their friendliness. But, friendly they are. This is necessary to establish first contact with you, to develop a rapport, or even a kind of seeming friendship. (Notice that "friendly" and "friendship" both contain the same root word.)
Secondly, con artists are sure to communicate to you the idea that they hold values in common with you. They are good at "reading" people -- at seeing what you hold dear. These values may involve politics, religion, education, marriage, parenting, sex roles, abortion, contraception, Natural Family Planning, money, healthcare, diet, exercise... Whatever values are most important to you, skilled con artists are quite adept at discovering. And once they discover what is important to you, they are quite good at behaving as though they share those values. They can deliver Oscar-worthy performances. They may also sincerely agree with your opinions. In fact, good con artists often target those of their own religious and political affiliations.
Thirdly, adept con artists see what people need or desire, and they develop their "business" in an attempt to fulfill that need or desire. Do you need more money because you have been laid off or your children are going to college or you have been a victim of the financial crisis? You can choose from a variety of pyramid schemes to earn that sought-after higher income. Or one of your church buddies might offer you his "investment services" (a.k.a. ponzi scheme). Are you suffering from health problems, but lack insurance or success with "regular" doctors? Well, there's always someone willing to hook you up to some electrodes and give you a mystery potion to cure what ails you. Are you out-of-shape and need exercise? Join our health club for a very reasonable fee, but be sure to sign up for a few extra services (for a lot of extra cash) in order to really reap the benefits you deserve.
Even people who could not really be called "con artists" can be pretty adept at pressuring you into doing what they think you should do. Some of these people aren't even earning any money. They might just gain satisfaction from having others do their bidding. They have some kind of idea of themselves as leaders called by God. They may be operating under the impression that they have been uniquely chosen by their Higher Power for a special mission. Or they might believe their own delusions and actually feel like they are doing good for society. In this day and age, with all the scary things going on in the world, it is not hard to convince people to follow after you if you promise some kind of delivery from the stresses and fears of modern life. This is especially easy to do if you have some kind of "evidence" to back you up, combined with an air of confidence and (at least what may seem on the outside to be) a happy life yourself. If you behave as though you possess what others want, and if you have some basic leadership skills, it is not that difficult to attract a following, of sorts.
And if you start to question these manipulative people? They will often guilt-trip you, accusing you of not being a true Christian or dedicated student or faithful friend or loving spouse or conscientious parent.
And if you stand your ground with a con artist (or any person trying to exert undue influence)? It will really tell you a lot about his or her true character and motivation.
The bottom line is this. Your ability and right to make your own decisions for your life -- about your religion, your politics, your money, your family -- should be respected by others. And a good person will respect your autonomy, your dignity, your choices. Of course, good people can have disagreements about things, even about values. Good people may try to influence others, but it will be done in the right spirit, without veiled (or even overt) threats concerning anyone's immortal souls, educations, or finances. And nobody will take their friendship away from you if you don't behave according to their will.