There are three quotations that have guided my life since I was a kid. One of them is from Anne Frank’s diary (dated July 15, 1944):
“ . . . I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
I believe that with all my own heart . . . and yet I was reminded this weekend that I’ve not lived that ideal as I should. At least not when it comes to the Food Babe.
That unhappy realization came home this weekend thanks to a Twitter exchange with John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State. I’ve never met John, although we communicate often thanks to Twitter. He’s deeply skeptical of folks like The Babe — but this weekend, in response to me tweeting that I believe her to be driven by gain rather than good, he replied:
“I don’t know what’s in her heart and I try to believe the best of people . . . ."
Ouch! That simple statement forced me to realize that I’ve not even tried to give the Babe the benefit of the doubt. I’m assuming that I know her motives and that I know “what’s in her heart.”
And of course I don’t. I’ve never met Vani Hari, never talked to her in person. Never, most important, had a chance to look her in the eye, which, I believe, is the only way to truly know another human being. (Yes, terrifically old-fashioned and three-dimensional of me. What can I say? At my age, some things just can’t or won’t change.)
So, no, I don’t know for a fact that the Babe is motivated by profit. Perhaps in her heart she honestly believes she’s doing good for the world.
In my mind, the evidence says otherwise. She knows full well that she relies on the expertise and endorsement of known quacks. She knows that many of her charges and claims are flat out wrong because she doesn’t know anything about chemistry. And yet she carries on, spouting nonsense daily and banking the hefty rewards for doing so.
And over thirty years of research as a historian, I’ve encountered countless examples of people who’ve reaped the monetary rewards by duping others. People like that are a fact of life.
But . . . because I am a historian and committed to facts as evidence, I can’t escape this particular fact:
I don’t know her personally and so I don’t, in fact, know for certain what motivates her. Maybe she’s an Anne Curry type: wide-eyed and breathlessly naive and believing deeply in her cause. Or maybe she’s a charismatic, slightly messianic, Greg Koch type who can spot a fool and money a mile away. I dunno.
Again, the evidence thus far indicates she’s more of a Koch than a Curry . . . but the one piece of evidence I would need to affirm my skepticism is beyond my grasp.
So: I thank John for reminding of the significance of one of my personal golden rules. And I would be happy to be dead wrong about Vani Hari.
PS: In case you're wondering, the other two maxims are:
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." --- Antoine de Saint Exupery; The Little Prince (a sentiment, which, yes, rather contradicts my point above about looking someone in the eye)
"The main thing in life is not to be afraid to be human." --- Pablo Casals (from, I believe, Joys and Sorrows)