In The Sound of Music, Austrian postulant Maria, screwing up her nerve before venturing into the world as nanny to seven children of a baron, gives a rousing pep talk to self on the importance of confidence: “I have confidence in sunshine. I have confidence in rain. … I have confidence in confidence alone!”
As a Christian I always thought it a bad message, since our confidence should be in God and not self and certainly not in emotion. Nevertheless, I would be lying not to admit that there is something to be said for the power of naked confidence, a lesson I learned in two ways within an hour’s walk on the boardwalk at Seaside Heights last weekend.
The first occasion happened simply while approaching the beach. In New Jersey you have to pay for the privilege of walking on God’s sand and dipping your toes in the foam. But my husband and I were quite oblivious. We sauntered right up to a gate where two tanned teens manned a booth, and I struck up a conversation about the driving distance to Ocean City and Wildwood, after which I bid adieu and we happily walked past them onto the sand dunes, sans forking over $3.
In hindsight I recall a strange look on their faces as we went our way. But my husband and I must have looked so confident—so within our rights—that the duo were momentarily stunned into letting us go. It was only later, when we figured out what had happened, I gasped. What makes it funny is that I’m not at all a socially confident person and would never dream of trying to bluff my way through a ticket gate. I’m sure if I ever tried it I would blush and be caught red-handed.
Not long after that, we were up from the surf and on the busy boardwalk. We felt sorry for the densely packed vendors, all hawking and calling desperately for patrons to their tattoo and penny arcade emporiums. But one booth had gathered a crowd. There was nothing at all out of the ordinary about Leo’s Bottle Bust compared to the other teddy bear–winning spots. A simple concept, it had bottles lined up on shelves of different heights, and if you plunked down a bill on the counter, you had three shots to smash a bottle.
But there was a twenty-something kid in the crowd with his friends, and he was so loudly and artfully talking up his friend’s prowess with the beanbag—like Tom Sawyer beguiling feckless neighborhood kids to his fence-painting job—that passersby were rubber-necking to see what wonderful event was taking place. People at first giggled shyly, but I am certain that all wished that they were that confident guy.
My brother once told me in the late 1960s, after he was picked up hitchhiking by two other teens, he learned a fascinating truth about human nature: Even if you are dead wrong about something in an argument with somebody, if you say it confidently enough you can get most people to believe you.
That is both scary and useful to know. And, I would say, not a minute too soon for the next presidential election.