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The Samson Principle


Explanations > Beliefs > The Samson Principle

The Sampson story | The underlying principle | So what?


There is a biblical story that is not really about belief but can be understood and used this way.

The Sampson story

In the Bible, Sampson is a long haired strongman, given his powers to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines. From birth he is imbued with the Nazrite oath and connection to God as long as his hair is not cut.

However, after defeating the Philistines, he falls in love with Delilah, who is bribed by the Philistines to persuade him to tell her the secret of his strength, which he eventually does. She then has his locks cut while he sleeps, which also breaks his God-connection, reducing his strength to human levels and allowing his enemies to capture, blind and enslave him.

Brought to a Philistine temple in shame, he appeals to God for one last boost of strength and brings down the temple, killing everyone, including himself.

The Samson Principle

Religion aside, the Samson Principle starts from the assumption that one's power, whatever this may be, comes from belief. If you believe you are strong, then you will act as if you are strong and actually be able to perform acts of strength that you would not be able if you believed you were not strong.

Beliefs work only as long as you believe them. Samson believed that his strength would remain only as long as his hair was not cut, so when it was cut, he believed he was weak and acted that way.

The Samson Principle is hence that beliefs can make you powerful, but those very beliefs can also destroy that power.

How it works

When we believe something, we tend not just to believe it blindly. We have a need to explain things, and so attribute cause to why those things we believe are as they are.

This gives a way to change the belief. If you can find out what attributions people are making about their beliefs, then you can work to challenge the attributions and so shake the belief.

Building and breaking

Newspapers and the wider media do something like this. They build up a person, creating the belief that the person is wonderful and super-human with articles praising them and their abilities.

Then they knock them down, destroying the beliefs they have created, perhaps digging ancient dirt to show they are really quite sordid and bad. For a person unsure of themselves in the first place (as many are who are thrust into the spotlight), this can be devastating.

A two stage Samson-destruction structure is hence:

  1. Build them up: Encourage them to believe they are wonderful.
  2. Knock them down: Pull the rug from beneath them, turning the world against them and destroying the beliefs you encouraged.

So what?

So when people hold a belief that you want to change, ask them to tell you more about the belief. Listen for attributed cause and perhaps ask 'why' to find these.

Then home in on the causes. Challenge these. Ask if there could be other causes. Look for evidence that the cause is not true. Probe for the source of the attribution and challenge this.

When beliefs are confused or removed, then there will be a gap into which you can offer alternative beliefs.

See also

Cause-and-Effect Reasoning, Attribution Theory, Three-Stage Belief Change


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