Millions of pounds and dollars have been made by people who have acquired the knack of telling others what they want to know. Mindreaders and Mediums have spent a lot of time and study on the psychology of answering questions that are put to them by members of the public, who, supposing that the mindreader is gifted with some divine insight, presume he has the ability to foretell the future and see the past and present.
It is possible to tell the future and see the past and present! What is more, anybody who cares to do so—can do so; the qualifications required are few although their application may be harder than one might at first suppose. In order that you may consider time in a person's life, thereby providing the means to answer a question, you require experience of life, which we shall call worldliness, you must be skilled in observation of detail and you need a good memory along with the mentalist's best friend—the ability to talk.
Armed with these few qualifications, you are a powerful person. You can deal with people and what is equally as important, people want to deal with you! Shall we consider why there has ever been a demand for people who can answer questions? If we understand why the questions are asked, we understand what sort of reply must be given—and that is a most important thing to bear in mind at all times.
Starting at the beginning; when we are troubled with our health, we go to a doctor because we know he can answer our questions. Likewise, in a problem of law, we go to a solicitor. With all our material problems we find someone somewhere who is qualified to render advice—but when we step outside the material and find we are troubled with the intangible—whom then do we consult? Who is best qualified to deal with indecision, uncertainty, doubt, fear and hope and any of the emotional twists of our human make-up? A clever man knows that half his trouble is solved when he finds out what the problem is—so who do you go to when you are troubled and cannot pin-point anything or anybody with the blame? Some people go to mediums, some go to mindreaders and some go mad! Others find their answers elsewhere but we are concerned with those who go to mindreaders.
Most people who seriously ask our mindreader to render his professional advice, do so because they hope (and occasionally believe) that his unusual abilities give him something the others have not got. In the first place they presume he has something more than others because in general, the approach to the interview is something quite extraordinary; in fact, considered in cold daylight, it is more than extraordinary—it is absurd. The character with a problem wants to come up to our mindreader and sit in front of him with perhaps three words of greeting. From then on (in theory) our gifted seer reveals past, present and future, states facts right, left and centre and ends up with the perfect answer to all problems! It is not so—that's what they want and that's what they think they get—but by half a million miles it is not so. Very shortly, we shall see what diabolical deceit is used to make something so hard—seem so simple; it is the art of giving answers to questions.
To boil it down to a few words, when someone asks you a question there are TWO replies you can give. There is that which they want to happen, and there is that which they do not want to happen. If you tell them the first, they will believe in you and like you. If you tell them the second they will doubt you and dislike you. It's as simple as that, or is it?
The trouble starts when you find out what they want and yet to advise it would be doing what you know to be ethically or legally wrong. People don't always want to do the right thing, very often they want the opposite and if you encourage them, do you not become a party to their guilt? So how do you get out of that fix? Again it is simple when you understand.
Your first objective is to find out what they want—that is to say, when dealing with a serious question. Having done that, you call on your experience of life and work out within reason, whether or not you are in a position to give any advice at all. If no harm can be done (and we shall say more on this later)—then go ahead and say what commonsense tells you to say keeping your advice as near as possible to their secret wishes. If harm can be done, fall back on the old friend to Mediums—deliver a warning carefully worded but above all shroud the answer in ambiguity. Admit n&thing, suggest nothing and insinuate nothing. Give out a long winded spiel that seems to answer everything and answers nothing. Play safe and remember that it is better to give no advice than wrong advice.
Exception to this can be taken when it becomes widely apparent that strong, sensible advice will do some good. For example, if you are confronted with a question that looks as though medical treatment would be the answer, don't be afraid to suggest a visit to the doctor. Never presume you can advise on all matters and leave technical problems to those qualified to handle them.
Many of the questions that people ask are concerned with medical problems and so we can take this type of question as illustrative of the right approach to giving an answer. Let us reason with commonsense. When a question has anything to do with health we can safely assume the person is worried on medical grounds. If nothing is wrong we could advise "you have ' no need to worry" BUT without the qualification of a doctor and a medical examination—how do we know that there is nothing wrong? We don't— so we offer good advice; we suggest a visit to the doctor. This assures that a satisfactory condition is reached because at the visit, if the person is told there is nothing wrong—then there is nothing left for them to worry about and on the other hand, if something is wrong, the fact that it has been discovered and can now be treated can hardly be considered in any way as harmful as a result of your advice!
Some readers might begin to think that I am rambling a bit too far from the main theme of this step—but I am not. If you propose to poke your nose (as I do) into other people's business, set yourself up as one who can advise on any problem or answer any question, you have got to be mighty careful. You are dealing with people's lives—not a dead pack of playing cards and you must accept responsibility for your own judgment. You must aim to be kind and firm, above all understanding; you need a broad mind and a controllable sense of humour and if you want to—you can do a lot of good, which is contrary to the average opinion that this sort of thing is a lot of bunkem and does no good.
For a long time I have frowned on mit-readers, pseudo-psychologists and the Tarot divinators. It took me quite a while to wake up to the fact that they do more good than harm and I have by now enough personal experience of people made happy by them. Hundreds will disagree with me on this—but the joy is that I'm writing the book and what I say goes in print!
This business of answering questions can be a fascinating aspect of Mentalism.
At the start it all seems very boring and unimportant and it takes time before you realise how very personal it is—and slowly you begin to see that this is an advanced field of mental magic, a field where experience counts for more than anything else. Nothing can teach you more than experience in this business and if you stick at it, by virtue of your experience, you will develop an uncanny knack of telling what they want, why they want it and facts about the person you are dealing with at the time. It's wonderlul training for the mentalist because in the main it forces him to fall back on personal ability, shrewdness, perception, logic and mental analysis of situations and people. In the beginning, you may well take to apparatus as a means to gain information, you may call upon Clip Boards, Billets, Systems and so forth to booster your personal ability; but in the end you will not.
The true Question and Answer man does not use gimmicks because he does not have to use them. I have worked with professional readers and I have seen how they can fathom a situation and analyse a person—and these professionals don't know the first thing about mentalism and what is more, they don't want to! They fall back on experience and if you aim to specialise in this work, that too should be your objective because there is no higher standard and no better system.
Those experienced in answering questions know that if you were to invite ten thousand people to ask a personal question, the bulk of the questions received could be classed very quickly into a very limited number of groups or types of questions. You would not get ten thousand different questions as you might suppose if you were inexperienced. In fact you Would probably be quite amazed at the large number that seemed to be much the same. If you decided to remove all questions that dealt with Money, Health and Sex in shape or form(!)—you would have very few left from your ten thousand. You don't have to be a psychiatrist to reason that these three things are predominate interests in the average life.
In view of this, which is an established fact and not a crackpot theory, we can anticipate what the question will be to some extent. Since the classification of questions is a statistical theorem, we cannot guarantee what the question will be. but what we can do is to save a lot of time and trouble by dealing with the most probable question first and so on down the scale until we arrive at the actual problem on hand. Sometimes people tell you what they want to know, sometimes they don't and then you must find out. Without recourse to trickery with apparatus (i.e. Clip Boards) you determine the question or problem by a process of verbal conjuring called "pumping". This again is a skilled art. It means you have to make them tell you what they want to know—and yet they must not know that they have told you. All very ridiculous when you think of it—but part of the game nevertheless! We shall deal with "pumping" a little later—but now we know what it is and why we do it, let us see how it fits in with our statistical questions.
Does it not stand to reason that if you have a pretty good idea of what they want, you not only know where to go with the opening gambit, but also you know how to deal with your discoveries and you save a lot of time and avoid nasty blunders of conversation that may otherwise occur. Without a clue.
you may well start off on any blind alley. Why not ask them if their problem has anything to do with chrome-plating sardine tins? Answer is simply that more people have trouble with sex than sardine tins—so sex gets priority! Along these lines we can learn from those who have answered thousands of questions and pay attention to their views which tell you what subjects are most likely and in graduated scale form, which ones are most unlikely.
We shall give a table of probabilities which is based on an analysis of many questions to show what statistics say you should expect.
For the moment we need not consider the exception to the fact which invariably exists where statistics are concerned, because no matter what we say or what we prepare for, there will always be the catch-question, the ambiguous question and the lunatic's problem. We shall prepare for them by having in stock a couple of good replies that will fit any doubtful question and our budding mentalists should not be discouraged by the thought that someone may ask him "What is the I.Q. of my French Poodle?". Those who deal with Questions and Answers stick their necks out a mile or two when inviting ANY question—and you cannot limit the choice without impairing your status, but for all the risk it's great fun playing the mental-detective and finding out what they don't want to tell you and then telling them the same things in such a manner that it all sounds and seems frightfully clever.
It is frightfully clever at that! "Cold reading" means you start off without the slightest knowledge about the person and end up telling them a long list of personal data. Is that not clever? Maybe you will disagree, but one thing you can't argue about is that it's commercial. As stated earlier, quite a number of people have made quite a number of fortunes by acquiring the ability to do it. One or two moralists will stand up and call the whole affair a dirty business—and ten to one they don't know the first thing about it. Of course ' it can be a dirty business—and so can Mentalism and Magic if you choose to make it so. I know a group that use conjuring tricks solely for the purpose of performing pseudo-occult manifestations at meetings of so-called Black Magic. That's dirty magic—but you don't have to do it. When it comes to Questions and Answers you can be clean all the way—and should be. If you set out to amuse people and help them with some sound advice when you can—it does no harm whatsoever and I wouldn't care a damn what the critics say or think. I know from experience that half the visitors to a friend of mine, went there not because they wanted advice or solutions to problems—but simply because they just wanted someone with whom they could discuss their headaches. Having talked things over, they were quite relieved and nothing more than that did a lot more good than harm. So don't be too sensitive about dealing with Questions and Answers on the grounds that it has been— and will remain, open to attack from those who "think" but don't "know". Set yourself a decent standard in the work and stick to it. That is to say, resolve to keep your mouth shut about other people's business. If they are going to talk over personal problems with you—maybe you will learn a lot about them. Let that be a professional confidence and don't compare notes with other readers or advertise what has been confided in you. Don't get mixed up with any of the groups or Religions that allow scope for a question and answer man. Steer very clear of anything that can be labelled "Supernatural" and consider yourself to be more in the class Mentalist-Psychologist rather than Mentalist-Medium. Don't try and fool people who are guided by Spirits—either liquid or astral; some of the money earned from Question and Answer performers has been made from the mediumship level—but it's not such a high level so keep away from it.
Anything which deals with very personal matters is naturally a delicate subject and that is why Question and Answer workers have to be so careful. There are still many pitfalls that the unthinking performer will slip into. It may be an act from the stage with a Question and Answer routine thrown in. For general entertainment, the act may be guided along comedy lines— with witty, clever and taunting replies. However, you never really know if someone sitting out front is desperate for sound advice—or maybe someone is hurt by your joke. Therefore it is generally a wise policy to play safe when dealing with questions, and to assume that they are serious unless it is obvious that a prank or catch is intended. When it does happen that you get a catch-question or one that is quite obviously intended for fun, then you are at liberty to reciprocate in like manner, and your aim should be to out-wit the witty. We shall explore the usual catch-questions and give a few examples of how to deal with them. This will come later in the book.
The other type of question that we may receive is serious but dangerous. It is not just a light-hearted catch-question, but a "bait" question which has been cooked up to expose you as a fraud. If you are caught on this one— you are in trouble and you have got to be very sharp to talk your way out of it. Therefore the best bet is to play safe again and don't take chances. If you smell a bait question—try to avoid dealing with it altogether and when that is impossible, give any answer that commits nothing, approves of nothing and if the question warrants it, go so far as to insinuate that you doubt the sincerity of the question. Every now and then we get a real beauty, known as the "red-hot bait Question" and usually they are framed in aggressive language so you can, if you feel confident, reciprocate with a powerful answer. We give a few hints on how to deal with hecklers and sticky situations a little later.
So now let us get down to the business of studying now to deal with Questions. So that we can tackle this rather expansive field in some sort of syllabus, let us divide it into two main parts. Part one we shall call "Dealing with Questions that are known" and Part Two, "Dealing with Questions unknown". It is important that you read both Parts as there is a considerable overlap of technique and the two cannot be completely isolated from each other.
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To do this successfully you need to build a clear path of action by using tools if necessary. These tools would be facts, evidence and stories which you know they can relate to. Plus you always want to have their best interests at heart, in other words, you know what is good for them