Joe is an average bloke, who has a passive superpower that he's lived with all his life.

People believe everything he says. Implicitly, unquestioningly and absolutely. If he says that black is actually neon purple, people within earshot accept that as a natural truth. If he then recanted his statement then black would be black again.

This has certain advantages ('But this meal is on the house, waiter!'), but Joe wants to live a normal life (for a variety of reasons, one of which is evil assassins).

How can Joe avoid accidentally using his superpower in everyday life given that even seemingly innocuous statements like 'Good Morning' can completely change the mental state of those around him?

Joe can't turn this power off, and wants to be able to live as a normal western adult male, so taking a vow of silence or retiring to the Rockies in a tent aren't options.

Edit: For the avoidance of doubt: This applies only to spoken and heard communications (the deaf are immune). On the other hand: For the purpose of combinations such as pointing and speaking, anything that someone would think to themselves 'that's obviously a lie' when it's said/done by non-Joe, believes it implicitly when it's said/done by Joe. If the person has misheard or misconstrued what Joe said, then they implicitly believe what they heard/understood, not what Joe intended. If what Joe says just doesn't make sense (for example: Patent explosive donkey muffin discombobulate.) then confusion is the response that will occur, not attempting to parse the sentence into 'truth'.

Now I want a Patent explosive donkey.

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    $\begingroup$ This is almost the plot for The invention of lying: imdb.com/title/tt1058017 $\endgroup$ – Martijn Dec 14 '15 at 8:31
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    $\begingroup$ I also think you need to come up with a reason why he shouldn't use it for his own good. No-one will know, he can gain a lot of power, he will have to continue to choose between own benefit and honesty. What is his motivation? Even the good guy will cave in eventually. $\endgroup$ – Martijn Dec 14 '15 at 8:34
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    $\begingroup$ What if he said, "What I am saying is not true."? or even "From now on, what I am saying might be or might not be true." and just keep saying that until everyone hears that. $\endgroup$ – justhalf Dec 14 '15 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs I think only the first evil assassin would be dangerous. If Joe gets a chance to talk to him/her, he can say "You shouldn't kill me. In fact, you should help me to talk to all the other assassins." $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Dec 14 '15 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ You're going to stop thinking about this question. $\endgroup$ – Joe Dec 14 '15 at 18:09

12 Answers 12


Just tell the truth - and be specific.

Joe's superpower appears to be a problem in one of two types of situations:

  1. He says something that isn't true ("I am a green stegosaurus!").
  2. He says something that could be interpreted in different ways ("Good morning!").

Joe can control things in the first case by simply always telling the truth. I can't think of many situations in which this would be problematic - most of us don't claim to be dinosaurs on a daily basis - except in ones where he might have to tell white lies. Lying then won't cause huge problems.

Besides, there are situations where having people believe white lies could be handy. For example, Joe Jr. will finally believe his dad when he's told that that red liquid isn't the actor's blood, but ketchup.

The second case can be averted by saying an entire sentence. For example, people say "Good morning!" to one another as a greeting. If you make this a full sentence, though, it can be thought of in different ways:

  • "I hope you have a good morning!"
  • "I think it is a good morning!"
  • "It is a good morning!"

All Joe has to do is be specific as to which of these he means.

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    $\begingroup$ I think of the options this is the most sensible and least likely to cause further complications. Though his speech patterns will become quite affected. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Dec 15 '15 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ Or imperative. "Have a nice day". Since it's not declarative, it's not something that would be believed. $\endgroup$ – Luis Masuelli Dec 16 '15 at 4:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs It probably won't break his normal-western-adult-male-ness…but maybe, just maybe, he'll be remembered for a while as that one guy who always worded things just a little bit funny. $\endgroup$ – Blacklight Shining Dec 16 '15 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ If Joe said "Good morning" to me, it wouldn't affect me. When I hear someone say "Good morning," I don't understand it as any kind of statement of fact, but just a form of "Hello" that you say before noon. I suspect the majority of people feel the same way. (Till I read this thread, it never occurred to me that anyone would take "Good morning" as a statement, instead of a greeting.) $\endgroup$ – user24353 Dec 23 '15 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ Joe Jr. will finally believe his dad when he's told that that red liquid isn't the actor's blood, but ketchup. - Could have negative consequences, as when someone tells Joe Jr. 'Oh, they used fake blood for this scene' he will be immovable in the belief that it's ketchup, even when presented with logical evidence, making him a mockery to the other people. $\endgroup$ – SGR Jul 7 '16 at 8:17

He could train himself to turn every statement into a question: "Good morning, isn't it?"

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    $\begingroup$ Another possibility would be to start every statement with "I think". Like "I think this will be a great day." $\endgroup$ – celtschk Dec 12 '15 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ This is how Kilgrave tries to "be normal" w/ Jessica in Jessica Jones; he consciously avoids ever making declarative statements to her, but couches everything in questions and interpretations. $\endgroup$ – KutuluMike Dec 12 '15 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ Good morning, isn't it? Though phrased as a question, it effectively a statement with a request to affirm the statement. $\endgroup$ – Gary Walker Dec 12 '15 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ @GaryWalker true, but the superpower implementation may not know about it. $\endgroup$ – Dallaylaen Dec 13 '15 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Javelin: "I do believe this is a good morning" is a statement about his believes, not about the morning. Therefore in this case the only thing someone would be forced to agree with would the that Joe believes this is a good morning. So if someone told him "Joe doesn't actually think the morning is good" then he would violently disagree. While he may still think the morning isn't good (and possibly wonder why Joe considers this a good morning). $\endgroup$ – celtschk Dec 14 '15 at 20:47

Joe should go into politics.

The shock of having an honest politician may be a bit much, but people would accept it. After all its "Honest Joe". I have to admit, that I am assuming his superpower works over television, etc. and does not work only in his personal presence.

Joe is no longer accidentally using his superpower. He is using it intentionally to change the world for the better (hopefully).

As for his public policy speeches. He should be utterly dependent upon the teleprompter so that his words are carefully scripted to have the exact effect he desires.

In private he can instruct his advisors, etc. to tell me what you really think, don't worry about disagreeing with me. In fact he could get the best and brightest to advise him specifically about how to best use his superpower.

When caught in an impromptu press conference, etc. He could still control the message in acceptable ways. To dodge a question about current events, "I am not sure we know all of the relevant facts at this time but I am following the events and share your concern, next question please." or "I am not taking questions on this subject at this time" or "I don't have time to answer this right now" Best thing is, since even the reporters trust Joe, no controversial followup questions will trouble him.

Politics is about messaging. How do you say something to accentuate your message and not "step in it". Pick abortion as a an example, few things are more politically controversial in the US.

  • As a Democrat: "I think abortion should be rare but legal. But ultimately at some level it is wrong to force a woman in what has to be a very personal decision."
  • As a Republican: "I think abortion should only be legal in very restricted cases. Although I am very sympathetic to the women carrying an unwanted child, I cannot agree that killing an innocent baby is something a moral people can endorse."

I believe both of these statements are a pretty accurate representation of the party positions. Coming from Joe, both statements are perceived as reasonable by everybody. Coming from Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz, they aggravate the opposition as wrong-headed and hypocritical.

Joe can memorize the stock phrases he needs to answer most questions to convey his precise intent. He can deal with other question using his dodge phrases until a better opportunity to answer carefully arises.

Now, if Joe is good and wise, we can have the best politician possible. If he is evil or foolish it could be very bad for his constituents.

If you have a superpower and don't use it you are simply wasting an opportunity. This waste will very likely eat at you as a failure of character (if good) or failure to take advantage (if evil). Avoiding the power will cause Joe harm, and logically if Joe is good, harm others by not having the benefit of his beneficence.

I thought that some people would not consider the life of a politician to be normal, but did not address it. I know some politicians personally. They seem to lead what is a very normal life. They love their spouse and kids, enjoy their kids and friends. Maybe they go to a ball game occasionally including their kids playing sports.

Perhaps at the level of the President of the US you are necessarily more isolated and thus not living a normal life. So maybe Joe will not run for the top office, maybe he limits his office to mayor of a large city.

On the other hand, if you get used to being mayor, maybe governor seems normal. And once you get used to being governor, becoming president seems normal. I know I've had this conversation with one of my politician friends and this is pretty much how he described it -- i.e., initially he was more impressed with the office and its responsibilities, but after a while it was just normal and the other senators no longer seemed above him in terms of being beyond just normal people like him.

I considered other professions, but eventually decided upon politician.

  • Preacher
  • Salesman
  • Trial Lawyer
  • Mediator
  • News Anchor
  • Public Relations
  • Inspirational Speaker

All of these would certainly be different with Joe's condition. I would certainly welcome a careful case for any of the above for being a better choice or something that I did not consider.

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    $\begingroup$ Ah - yes. Going into politics, particularly in the US, would provide a useful counter to his superpower. Although everyone at his rallies would believe him, as soon as they walked away they go, "Wait? What?!? Why, that lying bastard...!" and he'd be free from his power/curse. Of course, he'd also stand a fair chance of being assassinated, but y'know - life is like that sometimes... :-) $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Dec 12 '15 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ If Joe said something it would be perceived as a natural truth. When you walk away you don't repudiate a natural truth. He may well be assassinated though, there are crazy people out there. $\endgroup$ – Gary Walker Dec 12 '15 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ I think this might be completely counter to being the "Average Joe" that asker asked for. $\endgroup$ – Javelin Dec 14 '15 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ If you have a superpower and don't use it you are simply wasting an opportunity. True, and for this reason I think that if Joe becomes a Politician he will ultimately rise to the position of Absolute Benevolent(?) Dictator, Loved by All, Defender of Truth. $\endgroup$ – Michael Dec 14 '15 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ @BobJarvis I don't get all this talk of assassination. A politician of all people has plenty of opportunity to be heard by any potential assassin talking about how you simply don't kill or in any way seek to harm your leaders and in fact go out of your way to do your part to ensure their enduring good health and unending reign. $\endgroup$ – Michael Dec 14 '15 at 22:24

Learn a sign language and never speak.

Since this uses manual communication we evade the fact that:

People believe everything he says.

This strongly reduces accidental triggers of his superpower.

He would still need to talk to get proof that he's disabled (mute) by stating that fact to the necessary people (health specialists like nurses & doctors). With this proof he can then request official assistance (like requiring a dedicated translator for when he's following a meeting or symposium), which should strengthen his cover.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the OP excludes that with "doesn't want to take a vow of silence". I think it's probably his best bet, though. $\endgroup$ – YviDe Dec 13 '15 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ This was the idea I had as well. Nice to see someone already thought of it. Communicating via sign language is something plenty of otherwise normal people (whatever that means) do. $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Dec 15 '15 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ This just changes the problem domain. A more generic answer might be "learn a different language", which doesn't seem terribly useful? The subtext here might be "learn a language with fewer speakers", but the logical conclusion there is quite similar to a vow of silence, i.e., unable to communicate. $\endgroup$ – Kimball Dec 16 '15 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Ahriman I think we differ in our use/understanding of words! You open with, "Learn sign language and never speak", which seems like a non-starter to me - why learn a sign language but never speak it? Indistinguishable from a vow of silence. Unrelated: what's a disability proof and why does he need it? I can access a range of courses for my local sign language with relatively minimal barriers (money, mostly). $\endgroup$ – Kimball Dec 16 '15 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Ahriman I tend to adopt a looser approach to the language you're using - it's not uncommon to find written language expressed as, e.g., "he [said/spoke/talked] in his diary". In my social context this pattern is commonly extended to signed languages. It's all down to interpretation though, and yours is just as valid! On a public service note - could you make it clearer there is more than one sign language in your answer (e.g. "Learn a sign language...")? I can think of several interpreters who would thank you! $\endgroup$ – Kimball Dec 16 '15 at 23:18

All Joe needs to do is say "I will never accidentally use my superpower," and he won't.

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    $\begingroup$ This assumes the superpower works on himself. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Dec 13 '15 at 3:08
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    $\begingroup$ Since the original post does just says that "people" always believe him, and Joe is undoubtedly a person, that seems a reasonable assumption. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Dec 13 '15 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ This seems to assume his powers have some reality-warping ability, when it just changes what people believe. If he believes he'll never accidentally use it... that doesn't stop him actually accidentally using it all the time, he just believes he won't ever do it. "Good morning!" - powers activate. Joe to himself: "Wait, did I just use my powers? Oh, hold on, of course not, ha ha, I can never use those accidentally." $\endgroup$ – doppelgreener Dec 13 '15 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ @doppelgreener I think that would actually be a good answer. The question is from Joe's perspective - he doesn't want to be a terrible person by mind-controlling everyone around him.... maybe his solution is to use his power to convince himself he's not. It sucks for the people around him, sure, but Joe's happy. Until and unless he gets assassinated, but depending on the reach of his power (i.e. through media), he could just put a comment on a really popular YouTube channel "You want to upvote this comment. You never want to harm Joe Average of Averageville." before he "retires". $\endgroup$ – gatherer818 Dec 13 '15 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't work. His believing it doesn't make it true either. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Dec 13 '15 at 23:38

To avoid turning anyone to his point of view, Joe should never express opinions as facts but only as an opinion which applies to him personally.


"Strawberry ice cream tastes disgusting Strawberry ice cream tastes disgusting to me."

Someone hearing this won't be convinced that strawberry ice cream is disgusting to everyone, they will only be convinced that it is disgusting to Joe specifically. Their personal opinion about strawberry ice cream won't change.

Another option for Joe would be to counter his ability by constantly injecting statements into his everyday speech which tell the listener that he isn't trustworthy.


"Strawberry Icecream is disgusting, but you know I don't have a common taste. We should buy something else, but you should not trust me on this. Why not buy chocolate ice cream instead? But remember, I am a liar."

This way of speaking might seem unnatural to an unaffected person, but those affected by his ability might not notice it. Still, Joe will have to careful balance the use of these statements. Too much, and the person will start to develop a subconscious impression that Joe is not trustworthy and feel an aversion to him. Not enough, and he will start controlling people. It will take decades of practice until Joe finds the right balance. But over time this strange manner of speaking might become second nature to him.

Still, the ability to convince everyone he is speaking the truth and completely override their personal sense of reason is practically mind control. It is a very powerful ability which is very easy to abuse. Joe would have to possess an overwhelming amount of self-control and an extraordinary sense for morale and ethics to not get corrupted by this power. This is something people aren't born with. So he would have required a strong authority figure in his youth to get him on the right path. If he was born with his power, no such figure could have existed in his life, unless they were immune to his ability.

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    $\begingroup$ With your 2nd example, you just convinced the other person that you are a liar. Perhaps not what you wanted to accomplish. You know Joe is a liar, though you can't recall any example of Joe having lied. $\endgroup$ – Gary Walker Dec 13 '15 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ What if it was actually a common taste in vicinity? That'd mean Joe just altered people perception which he didn't want to. $\endgroup$ – Oleg V. Volkov Dec 17 '15 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ "Joe should never express opinions as facts but only as an opinion which applies to him personally." Furthermore, he should always express facts as opinions. He should get used to prefacing everything he says with "I believe that", "In my opinion", "I thought that", "it was my understanding that". In this way he will only convince people that he believes the things he's saying rather than convincing them to believe it too. $\endgroup$ – Shufflepants Mar 27 at 17:45

Joe should say a paradox (such as "this sentence is false"), smile, and walk off.

Then we'll find out how super Joe's superpower is =)

Edit: For those who are not familiar with what a paradoxical statement is, its one which cannot possibly be true because it contradicts itself. Thus his statement could not be true. A paradox would be one of many places where Joe an test regions where his superpower cannot go. It may, in fact, destroy his ability completely!

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    $\begingroup$ Not an answer... $\endgroup$ – Tim B Dec 13 '15 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ When Joe makes a paradoxical statement it could turn people insane because they can't stop thinking about how to interpret it. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Dec 13 '15 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp You're assuming a more-than-usual attention to detail and need for logical consistency on the part of Joe's audience. $\endgroup$ – Dave Dec 14 '15 at 0:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp I could actually see that as a side effect. Honestly, this process nearly drove several mathematicians mad in the early 1900's. I suppose that's the boobie prize of using the paradox approach: it either works, or it works by driving everyone too mad to understand true from false! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 14 '15 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think people necessarily have problems with paradoxes. I mean, do you believe that sentence is true? If not, what's wrong with believing it is false? I mean, it can't be true, so it is false, right? It even says that in the sentence itself, after all! Easy to believe it is true that the sentence is false. And when that fails, there's always en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance $\endgroup$ – hyde Dec 14 '15 at 6:59

It's going to be pretty hard, if not impossible, to live a normal life unless he can figure out what his weakness is and neutralize his own power.

It's pretty close to an absolute power over others, which would corrupt just about anyone.

Few things he could try, like shouting himself hoarse and see if it still works.
Breath helium or sulfur hexafluoride and test it.
Try it while connected to a MRI or other brain scan and see if a specific area lights up.

Worse case join the CIA and use the power to eliminate ISIS and other threats by simply telling them that killing is wrong.


This answer tackles precisely what you've suggested in your question - How can Joe cope by with living a life where anything he says becomes -> true.

What his power does:

His power essentially makes things true. Whenever he says something is X, then, even if something is Y, it becomes X, and thus it's true.

How to circumvent this power?

He deconstructs sentences. Wishing someone good morning, an happy birthday, a good life, etc.. are easily prevented. "Good Morning" can be a statement, and thus using his power, however "I hope you're having a Good Morning"/"I wish you an happy birthday" wouldn't be using his power, as he's expressing something that affects him, and him alone, at least, regarding his powers (you could argue that wishes could come true due to a 3rd party).

Then there's arguments. Whenever he has to express an opinion, he would force others automatically to accept his opinion, wouldn't he?

He wouldn't. Once again, check out what the power does. People believe whatever he says. "The box is purple" would be an assertive statement which would make people believe that the box is indeed purple, however, "I believe the box is purple" would also trigger his powers, but instead of making people believe that the box is purple, it would make people believe that Joe thinks the box is purple.

In sum, he can live an happy life if he sticks to referring to himself whenever he talks, "I think", "I wish", "I would" are three statements that would allow him to live a normal life.

BUT... He won't be able to use sarcasm at all.

  • $\begingroup$ "however "I hope you're having a Good Morning"/"I wish you an happy birthday" wouldn't be using his power" -- Even statements like that would affect some people--the type of cynic who believes that people are so selfish that all good wishes for other people are insincere. They might say, "Oh my gosh, Joe is the first person who ever wished me a happy birthday without secretly wanting me to die in agony!" $\endgroup$ – user24353 Dec 23 '15 at 9:14

He could become a reporter. Then he can truthfully tell all the lies he wants to - or has to - accurately reporting the words of others, with appropriate attribution.

I heard some amusing examples of this happening, listening to Radio Moscow during the "glasnost" era and the fall of the Soviet Union. During the Gorbachev era they were trying to learn new ways of reporting the news - and I think, actually making an honest effort not to be pure Soviet propaganda...

(One story of that time was about the Hungarian police having to give up their faithful Ladas ... all the crooks had BMWs...)

Then one morning came the big news story (on the BBC) that Gorbachev had been deposed by the hard liners, so I wondered what Radio Moscow's take would be, and I heard ... solemn classical music. Just the music... Then, and for the next few days, they reported official statements, attributed to the Politburo.

It was clearly impossible for them to voice any dissenting opinion : on the other hand, they would be negligent if they didn't report what the American president said about the situation ... so that's what they did - attributed to him, of course.

Three days later, when the hard liner's coup collapsed, they were finally able to report about the tanks parked in their back yard for the duration...

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    $\begingroup$ Yep, I'm sure he could be successful as a reporter or politician. However the question asked how he could live a normal life. Wouldn't this make his life even more complicated? If he says one wrong thing then it will affect thousands $\endgroup$ – womp Dec 15 '15 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ Joe saying 'Gangnam style is the best song ever!' in this context would explain an awful lot. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Dec 15 '15 at 16:11

Well why don't he just tell people :

I am not always telling the truth, and you got to use your own opinion to determine whether I am right or wrong.

He then just have to never disprove this sentence and this should go well.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this would work. The next sentence Joe says, the listener will automatically believe it true and also believe (because of this sentence) that he/she has decided on his/her own. Remember: Joe's power makes people believe what he says is true, but it doesn't make it true. $\endgroup$ – Ray O'Kalahjan Jan 23 '18 at 11:36

So the deaf are immune. (And apparently assassins.) Is Joe himself immune? Could he with self-hypnosis or a helpful hypnotist convince himself it was simply a coincidence that everyone agreed with him? Isn't what he wants "a normal life" merely the illusion of a normal life? Perhaps once a week he tells himself in the mirror "I am just like everyone else" until he rediscovers his superpower by observation. Rinse and repeat.


protected by Vincent Dec 12 '15 at 20:00

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