Posts Tagged 'manipulation'

Blind Spot


Aside from our other senses, we are temporarily blind to the half of the world located behind our head at any given moment. Some call that our blind spot. However, it’s not completely blind because we’re aware of the fact that we aren’t seeing it, not to mention the fact that the blindness is usually pretty easy to remedy when we need to, though it can be dangerous if we’re not paying attention.

Contrast that with our actual blind spot. Ironically the very place where the eye connects to the brain (via the optic nerve) is an area on our retina where we do not see – the blind spot. We do not notice it, and are thus unaware of it, because our brain fills the gap by extrapolating the likely content from the surroundings. We make it up. Fortunately this defect in our vision is small enough that it rarely causes a problem.

Combine those two characteristics and there would be significant issues. Imagine large areas of your vision that appear to be functioning fine, but are in fact being made up by your brain. We would call that being delusional (or one of a few other maladies).

Yet we are, in fact, delusional to some extent. We roll through life with our programming while being largely unaware that we’re thinking and acting according to it rather than objectively processing all the input we receive. These blind spots in our awareness – things we haven’t been programmed to be sensitive to – are all around waiting to trip us up. Most of the time the stumbles are minor, however, on occasion we can go pretty far astray and not be aware of it. We can hit the wall and crash, or we can do more subtle damage that we don’t see for a while, or we get what appears to us as having been randomly blindsided.

There is no solution to this in the moment. No easy shortcut to improve your odds beyond simply acquiring more wisdom as you experience more of life. You must start by accepting that what you see and believe is not an objective reality. It is simply what your brain has selectively chosen to make you conscious of. The best you can do is educate yourself and work at being informed and aware. Work at empathy by forcing yourself to be sensitive to others. Prepare within reason for mishaps so you can recover. There is a discipline to managing the risk, but in the end it’s impossible to eliminate it all. Being prepared includes the perspective of knowing we can’t be completely prepared. We must still be willing to act. To risk that we may be stepping into something that isn’t as it appears. Once we recognize how often this actually happens in our lives it could help us reconcile the fear we have when we do see the potential pitfalls. The risks our limbic system chooses to put in front of us are often as overblown as the risks we don’t see that are glossed over. Even the seemingly sure things had them. We just weren’t aware of it.


The “I Hope You…” Blow Off

ManWallBlowOff“I hope you get it.”

“I hope you make it.”

“I hope you are well.”

“I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

What do these phrases really mean? They may or may not be genuine. Even when they are they often (not always) represent disengagement. Spoken to make the speaker feel better. But the tranquilizing effect they have on the speaker is usually not at all transmitted to the hearer.

Because hope isn’t a strategy. Doing something to help is engagement. Heck, just being legitimately engaged is something, even if you can’t actually do much to help.

The speaker may actually care about the hearer (or maybe not). Nevertheless these words are code for, “I’m not going to do anything tangible to help, so you’re on your own, but good luck.” In fairness this is usually because the speaker perceives there isn’t actually anything that can be done. It’s forgivable, even if they are wrong. But sometimes the speaker is choosing to disengage. She doesn’t want to be burdened by it. These words alleviate that bourdon in a manner that’s polite and allows the speaker to feel better about it.

It’s that simple. So we may as well call it what it is: a blow off. The antithesis of loyalty.

Some close cousins to the above phrases:

“I hope everything turns out okay.”

“I hope to be there.”

Influence versus Manipulation

We routinely influence and are influenced by others. While we also at times manipulate and are manipulated by others the term manipulate has a much more controversial connotation to it. What is the difference?

They are in most respects two sides of the same coin. Both are used by people attempting to initiate some change in others. The differences boil down to two related parameters.

  • Free Will — The power of acting/choosing without the constraints of necessity or fate. If the subject retains an ability to act at her own discretion then she is said to be exercising free will. Influence does not negatively impact free will, while manipulation does.
  • Intent — Is the change agent’s intent to subjugate free will? If so it can be considered manipulative.

Influence comes in many forms and is vital in a functioning society (or family, or any institution). It is the basis upon which a culture is built, and how knowledge is shared. Influence doesn’t mandate the sharing of knowledge, but the receiving of knowledge does by definition constitute influence.

Manipulation is often considered a more extreme version of influence. It comes in two major forms: deception and bulldozing. It may not involve a knowledge transaction because it isn’t necessarily based on information, only achieving some result, an action, where understanding may not be relevant.

The term ‘manipulation’ has a distinctly negative connotation to it. It is thought to be sinister, unethical, or morally corrupt. I’ve already shown examples of ways that manipulation can be good. However, according to these definitions those examples appear to be more closely related to influence than manipulation.

Therein lies the rub.

The point at which influence becomes manipulation isn’t so clear. And even though there is some point beyond which it’s pretty clearly manipulation it can still be for a good outcome and therefore not be ethically corrupt.

We (like to) think we act in a manner using more free will than we really do. If our emotions are triggered in the right ways we will believe or accept things we might otherwise not. This is, for lack of a better word, manipulation. It may or may not be intentional, or by design as part of some activity, but it happens to us often. We make decisions and sometimes later can’t connect them to a rational thought process. We acted of our own free will, or so we thought, but we still wound up doing something we regret (if the outcome is perceived negatively), or at least question in terms of how we got there. Many times we don’t recognize it or question it at all, especially if we enjoyed the outcome and there weren’t any negative ramifications. But it could have still been manipulation.

Free will is overrated. The perception of free will is very important, but the actual responsibility that comes with true free will can be pretty daunting. I’m perfectly happy to be manipulated toward a good outcome. I can believe I decided on my own if that makes me feel better (manipulating myself).


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