on manipulation

Recently, I began a discussion on the topic of manipulation on Twitter.

I think I may have gone about it wrong.

Part of my intent with doing the sort of question-and-answer dialogue I’d been doing there was to experiment with finding ways to find baseline definitions of certain concepts I feel are currently ill-defined, from person to person.

With that one, though (I think the question was “what is manipulation?”), things got a little muddy, at least for me.

I also tweeted a thread on some things I thought we could do about manipulation, at the same time.
Without first coming to a community answer of what the concept even means.

How can we begin to address an issue, if we all have slightly different ideas in mind of what that issue is, and if it even is one to begin with?

I believe my internal definition of the word ‘manipulation’ is sightly different than the common understanding of that word.

I define it very….broadly.

This is a little challenging to write, because my thoughts on the subject are still very much in flux, but I’m going to do my best to work through them, as I write.

Part of what I saw as the root of some of the disagreement on Twitter has to do with my belief that things like tone and body language – nonverbal communication – are just as crucial to communication in general as words are – if not more so.

Even in the written word, though- there are ways to direct the likely thoughts of readers (friends or strangers), by using knowledge of human behaviors and tendency to inform the words we choose.

I personally include even things as seemingly unrelated, and harmless- as my decision to begin employing bold typeface in my blog.

It was recommended to me by a friend, and I suspect his reasons were pretty insightful.

Bold typeface gives our eyes something to anchor to, when we’re skimming an article.

Tactics like these are used by advertising agencies in creating advertising that might catch the eye of consumers. They are used by directors to keep the audience from getting bored, by grocery stores when choosing layout.

Tactics like these are used by political leaders, school teachers.

They are used by anyone who has a product to sell, or a message to spread.

Grocery stores do not post little signs, explaining that they put candy down low and by the resisters, in order to facilitate kids entreating harried parents at the end of a stressful shopping trip to just buy that candy and not have to deal with arguing about it – or however it plays out.

There is no little script on billboards, explaining the choice in image, font, or location.

Those are the kinds of decisions that are made behind the scenes, but they are made for a reason.

And what about people? In our everyday interactions with friends, strangers, partners, family?

“Do I look fat in these pants?”

A classic cliche, now- but a simple one with which to begin illustrating my point.

Rarely does the asker want an honest answer to that question.


These kinds of things can be difficult to parse- for both the speaker and the one being spoken to.

One of a number of reasons I decided to experiment more fully with a sort of complete authenticity in life, is the confusion, and even conflict, that frequently seems to arise as a result of this kind of disingenuousness in speech- whether intentional or not.

One evening a while back, my mom and I were in the hot tub.

We were trying to get my dad to join us.

He said he needed to start dinner, so that my mom and I could eat soon.

But when we told him we were fine with waiting, he came up with another thing he needed to do, instead.

We offered to help him with it afterwards.


Turned out, my dad just didn’t want to get in the hot tub.

My mom and I both would have accepted that as an answer- had he given it.

I’m not sure he even knew that was the real reason, though- not until the conversation had progressed to that point.

There are so many ways this can be applied to human interactions (and cross-species ones, but that’s for another day!).

One example is the kind of behavior I talked about in the ‘i am my only enemy’ post.

We affect the perception that others have of us, all the time. Our very action in every moment is a form of manipulation, in a way, I believe.

The way we walk, the clothing we wear, how often we smile or frown – and how genuine those expressions appear – these are all things that influence the perceptions of those around us.

I honestly don’t believe this a thing we can just – stop.

I suspect these kinds of things are part of the basic way that our brains process information.

But I don’t really know about all that.

What I do know is that human brains are fucking weird.

There are so many opportunities for misunderstandings, even when we are doing our best to communicate as authentically as possible.

It no longer makes sense to me to add further layers of potential confusion to the already challenging task of communication, by intentionally withholding potentially relevant information in my interactions with others.

Perhaps this post bears relevance to my thoughts on punishment- though I’m not even sure I’ve transcribed those ones to the blog, yet.

In case I haven’t-

I’m starting to feel like punishment is a ‘least-worst’ option – at best.

We punish people (adults and children, both) when we believe they will not change their behavior on their own.

Does anyone really ever change their behavior in a way that could be truly described as ‘on their own’, though?

Sure, sometimes we learn from books and movies and the like, instead of directly person-to-person.

But the knowledge still came from somewhere.

I believe that if humans still act in ways that increase the amount of suffering/trauma in themselves and those around them- they haven’t been taught a better way, with patience, and in a way that resonates.

Tone can punish, I believe.

My mom has a tendency to list off all the things I haven’t accomplished yet, when I go over to visit.

This, to me- implies an unwillingness on my part to do things like work, or make appointments.

But it’s rarely that I’ve forgotten these things. Far more frequent is that I’m prioritizing differently than she expects- but she does not ask.

Maybe tone isn’t quite the right word, here- but it makes me feel like she is assuming I will not take care of myself unless I am constantly under her direct supervision.

Makes me feel like a child.

When we assume that another person will not benefit from knowing why we are saying something — or worse; when we assume that another person will not understand why we are saying something…

We are treating them like children. Though, honestly- I don’t believe children should be treated this way, either.


How often do we really give other people a chance to understand our underlying motivations?



I’m not saying I’m perfect at this, nor that what I’m suggesting here is an easy thing.

It’s terrifying.

To be authentic with those around us, we must first be authentic within ourselves.

For me, that’s been a far more challenging task than that of transferring that authenticity to my interactions with those around me.

Being honest with ourselves, truly honest- that is what requires the greatest feats of courage.

After I began attempting to communicate with myself with more honesty, authenticity- the obstacles I had in doing so with other people, all that fear…. Just began dissipating.


And so, slowly – did the frequency with which I encounter conflict and misunderstandings with the people I interact with.


Conflict is not gone for me – but it is manageable, now.  Instead of miscommunication happening often enough to be the norm, now it is the exception.  


That feeling, that peace- that reduction in the daily instance of stress in my life – is worth the price of honest self reflection.


I spent three years living on the street in Los Angeles. I came out of that, changed. This is my story.

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