Thursday, September 25, 2008


It happens everywhere.

It's perceived as malicious. It's associated with deceit and lies. It's viewed negatively. It's shunned by those who think they're honest. It's feared that it will be used against us. We're fed it daily by the news, by movies, by corporations, by governments, by friends and by family.

Manipulation makes the world go round. It allows society to function. It allows us to keep our friends. It allows us to get promotions at work. It can allow us to get out of consequences. It can create foreign policy and world leaders. It can turn a dictator into a champion of the people, turn a saint into a pariah or turn a friend into a lover.

The actual definition of manipulation doesn't aid it's negative perception. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
  1. to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner
  2. a: to manage or utilize skillfully
    b: to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage
  3. to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one's purpose
Notice how definitions 2b and 3 both imply something sinister. The words "unfair" and "insidious" both send chills up the spines of someone who believes they are honest and true. Yet we all partake in this practice daily, if only on a subconscious level.

Think about it. Think about the number of times yesterday you weren't wholly truthful with someone. A small censor in how you act or speak to keep things civil; a false smile to greet someone you don't really like that much; someone acting depressed or sad so that you'll ask "what's wrong?" so that they can vent. All of these things are manipulation. We're changing our actions to get the desired results. It's not always devious or malicious; but it is a form of manipulation.

I'm not a fan of his.

In high school and college there would be numerous times when I'd be talking to a girl I found attractive and if she'd say something like "I love Dave Matthews!" I'd reply "yeah, he's pretty good." In reality I found his music and voice annoying beyond words but I didn't say that. I wouldn't tell her that I despised her favorite musician because that would be a one-way ticket to Nochanceofgettingadateville, population: me. Perhaps we mature this changes; we stop being the person we think others want us to be and start being who we are, either through increasing apathy about what they think of us or simply because it's just too much work to keep up the facade. I know I haven't told anyone I like Dave Matthews for awhile. Two years ago I did tell a girl I liked Britney Spears and went so far as to make a CD with a few of her songs to keep in my car for whenever I gave her a ride somewhere. I'm really not proud of that.

Everyone does it. As my previous example pointed out, manipulation is quite common when it comes to trying to attract the opposite sex. Girls do it as well as guys. I've seen girls tell guys they like playing video games or that they love attending sporting events; these are actions done to try and make the guy think she's going to be a better girlfriend than other girls and thus give her the advantage. I'm not saying girls inherently don't like playing video games or watching sports, but I've only met a handful who actually enjoy it as much as they claim. It's manipulation. They're saying what they think others want to hear to get what they want.

Think about how many times you've laughed at a joke that an attractive girl/guy has said when you really didn't find it that funny.

Going into a job interview is very much the same. For that matter I could say that a date is simply a job interview where both candidates are seeing if they fit the position and if they qualify for it, but that's a little cynical, even for

It's all manipulative.

me. Whenever I've gone into a job interview, I've tried to say and do whatever I could to give the impression that I am the best candidate for the position and that hiring me is the best choice. Is this true? I don't know. Maybe they got a bunch of crappy applications. Who knows. Still, I do everything I can to manipulate them into giving me what I want - a job. I'll wear my best suit, sit up straight, answer questions properly and refrain from saying anything objectionable. I'll most likely laugh at the interviewers jokes and agree with his opinions about the economy, the War in Iraq, and whether Twinkies or Ding Dongs are better snacks. Why? Because I want him to like me so that he'll hire me. In reality, I don't always wear my best suit, I don't always sit up, I say things that people find objectionable, I often make stuff up as I go along when it comes to problem solving, and I very rarely agree with anyone around here about the economy or the War in Iraq.

The Tinkies or Ding Dongs thing probably wasn't really a fair example: everyone knows Twinkies are better.

Over Christmas similar things will occur, only instead of applying for a job I'm dealing with my family. I'll watch what I say and think about my actions before I do them as to keep the peace. My immediate relatives aren't the familial equivalent of nitroglycerin, but relations can be volatile and unstable at times. I think at least once per Christmas season for the last seven years my mother, brother or both have broken

Christmas is kinda like this.

down crying. They're strained. There's a lot of pressure on my mother to make Christmas as wonderful as she possibly can for us; and she always outdoes herself and it always is as wonderful as any of us could imagine. But just as putting on a dinner party is stressful for the host, so is Christmas stressful for my mother. My brother has often burdened himself with the responsibility of not burdening my mother, which in turn simply makes things more volatile. The only thing harder than balancing a ball on your head is balancing two of them. However, each year we get through it. Christmas works each year with my family simply because we all manipulate one another; we all want to make it through with as few problems and conflicts as possible and so we watch what we say and we act as we feel we should to get the desired results. We make it through each year because we love each other and we're together and damn it that's what Christmas is all about.

I'm pretty sure most families function this way. There may be times when we let our unfiltered selves through and minor cataclysms occur, but more often than not we control our actions and manipulate one another to keep things civil.

I won't get started on national or international politics. I think it goes without saying that manipulation can occur on such massive scales by not reporting all facts or in extreme cases by making facts up.

Manipulation isn't a terrible thing. If we were all completely honest with one another life would perhaps be simpler. Of course, it only takes one manipulative person to throw a wrench into that utopia. Instead we've formed a society based around manipulation, around doing what we must to get what we want. As everyone does this it cancels out; two wrongs do not make a right, but if both people are liars they can hardly accuse the other of foul play without calling themselves out. Manipulating those around me is countered by their manipulation of me. I don't mean this is a terrible thing or malicious - I don't mean this in a negative context. It's just an observation. Manipulation is all around us and in us. We may even go so far as to convince ourselves that we do in fact like a certain band or television show so that we believe we're being honest. We manipulate ourselves to appease our wants and wishes.

Perhaps this will make people notice it more in their lives. Perhaps this will make people think I'm a cynical jerk. This isn't a thought

The game of life.

Not to be confused with this.

I just recently had nor something I've just recently come up with. I've always questioned and wondered why people do what they do; what their motivation is for certain words or actions. From my own observations I've found that most people are more self-serving than they'd ever care to admit. Not all, but most. From how we address one another to how we handle our finances: we do what we do to get the results we want. If you know someone's motivation or what they want you can quite easily predict their actions. Just like in Chess, where the motivation is well known (checkmate your opponent), we think steps ahead in our lives, figuring out what each other will do based on our own choices. The better we are at predicting what the other will do, the more we're able to manipulate them and get what we want.

The difficulty is in figuring out what people want.

1 comment:

nae4blue said...

I'm definitely a howard roark. I walk into interviews and I tell them exactly who I am. I refuse to be hired for anything more or less than what I am. I do not lie about liking petty bands or authors. I walk up to people I like and I express my feelings. And I only HAVE feelings for people whose values I hold in high regard...

What you've got, mister, is a bad case of the ethnocentrism.