During the Korean war Chinese soldiers had what was called a lenient policy towards US POWs. They treated the soldiers very well, especially compared to their N. Korean allies, who were known to be quite savage.
One thing the Chinese would do was convince the US prisoners of war to write the statement ”The United States is not perfect.”
Because they knew that we humans form our self-image largely by observing our own actions. Your own behavior is your primary source of information about your own beliefs and values. In other words you look at what you do to figure out who you are. We would love to think our self-image and values are solid as a rock, but they are not.
Why does this matter?
Look at the statement : ”The United States is not perfect.”
This seems obvious and harmless enough right? But big changes start with small steps. Sometimes very small steps. For the POWs who would not write that statement down, they might be asked to copy down statements that were written by others. Just to copy what someone else had written.
Completely harmless right?
With time the statements were slightly expanded. Maybe prisoners would write an essay on the things that were not perfect in the US or to write the statement “Unemployment is not a problem in a Communist country” After a short time the belief systems of the prisoners would change to incorporate what they had written.
Eventually it was believed that ALL American POWs held by the Chinese , as opposed to the N. Koreans, collaborated with the enemy in one form or another. Whether it was turning against their country or turning in other prisoners. Willingly broadcasting anti-American statements or just running errands for the Chinese, these soldiers all changed their belief systems.
These were soldiers who were trained to keep their mouths shut. But their entire belief systems were changed (you can say brainwashed) through tiny seemingly harmless written statements. What the hell?
They changed because they saw what they had written, and their beliefs changed to match what they had done.
Ok, that’s history, how can this information be useful to us now?
There are two primary ways. First, to avoid being unduly influenced and secondly to be able to take control of our own belief system.
Our beliefs can be our greatest asset or our worst liability, so having knowledge and control over them is pretty damn important.
To avoid being influenced we start by being aware that when we are asked to take any action, even a seemingly trivial one, our self image will begin to shift to accommodate it. If we are asked to sign a petition, or answer a questionaire we will begin to change, and these small changes can lead to large consequences. So we need to be aware of our actions especially when we are asked by others. We should not take a step down a path that is not a path leading to where we want to go.
To take control over our own belief systems we choose to take tiny steps in the direction we want to go in. If we want to be more resilient we can grow one tomato plant. If we want to have more integrity to ourselves we can commit to doing one push-up a day for a week and then doing it. This will teach us that we accomplish what we set out to accomplish. Then we can slowly set harder tasks for ourselves, and achieve them as well. Soon our self-image is of someone who accomplishes whatever they set their mind too. Pretty good huh?
If the Chinese soldiers could convince POWs to reverse their belief systems though seemingly harmless written statements we should not underestimate what they can do for us if we take the time to thoughtfully write our goals and beliefs.