Captain Jack Aubrey, the chief character in the Master and Commander series I just finished, is a nearly invincible sea captain. He takes undermanned and underarmed ships against nearly insurmountable odds, and succeeds where no one else can. Part of of his success is being able to tell what his opponents are thinking, as he views with practiced skepticism the subterfuge of his opponents. Once off the water though, he is rather more gullible than other men, and at one point in the series he spends nearly his entire fortune on a shady mining venture.
In crafting such singular, but realistic characters, Patrick O'Brian is portraying that facet of our nature which can make even the most cynical man or woman a sucker, given the right circumstances. For "Lucky Jack" Aubrey it was a mining venture. For me, it was the door to door steak salesman.
I view most salesmen with a skepticism I usually reserve for other drivers on the highway at rush hour: generally they want something I have and they're willing to use any amount of deceit to get it. Drivers want my place in the left lane, salesmen want my money. So the pest control guy, the "I'll paint your house number on your curb for the fire department" guy, and the bottled water guy all left my house empty handed. But Joe, the friendly guy from the steak and meats sales company, had a different tactic: flattery. See meat is a bit like wine, in that you can spend a ridiculous quantity of time and effort learning all the cuts, what part of the cow they come from, how best to use them, etc. And if you've devoted just a little time to this, like I have, and someone makes you feel that your knowledge is pretty extensive, like Joe the meat man does, and you have a pretty strong need for affirmation of your intelligence, after say, starting residency orientation that day and freaking out over the fact that you don't remember anything you've learned in the past four years, like I have, then the situation is dynamite. For your wallet that is.
It fairly makes me long for residency, when I won't have time to be at home and get suckered by such tactics. Of course, as I mentioned above, the orientation process, in which we get accounts for the electronic medical records system, sit through lectures on our responsibilities as interns, and get to know our classmates, is slowly driving home the fact that I'm a doctor, and that means I'm going to work harder than I ever imagined possible for the next several years. It hadn't really sunk in until one of the nurses, making sure my N95 mask (for tuberculosis) had a good seal, called me "doctor." Always before is was just a shorthand, or a compliment to my competency as a medical student. Now it is real, and I don't feel ready. I'm just hoping none of my patients know Joe.