Poisoning the well (or attempting to poison the well) is a rhetorical device where adverse information about a target is preemptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say. [Wikipedia]. Who would ever drink from a well if there was even the possibility that the report that poison has been put in the well could be true.
In any dispute this is one of the reasons why it’s unwise to only hear from one source (Prov. 17:18); but if only one source has been relied on, and that source has repeatedly assured their audience that the well has poison in it, then no amount of assurance that the well is safe will be persuasive enough. Reputations are ruined this way. If you’re the recipient of such slander it’s difficult, if not impossible, to defend yourself. It’s one of the illicit means that is used to control information and people. A misrepresentation of a person’s beliefs, words, or actions to someone who is in no position to verify or deny the information becomes a means of sowing doubts and fears; it separates people that otherwise might have been good friends.
Aren’t there people who you’ve “heard bad things about” that you avoid? You would never go ask them about any of the accusations, partly because the person who told these things would be upset with you for betraying them, and partly because if what you heard is true then you do want to steer clear. But what if there’s other evidence that this really isn’t such a “bad person”? Other people seem to be drinking from their well without any problem. In fact, some people seem to keep going back to drink over and over. Are they all just deceived, or has the deception come from somewhere else?
A few things to remember:
- What we have heard is not the same thing as what we know.
- Don’t believe everything you hear.
- Truth is simple, the lie is complicated.
- The innocent never mind being questioned (nothing to hide).
- Manipulators always resent being questioned (a lot to hide).
- Look at all the evidence.
- Ask questions.