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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


One of the earliest lessons we learn in life is the art of manipulation, even my grand dog knows how to practice it.  On early mornings when his ‘dad’ drops him off to spend the day with us he will typically snuggle in his bed and wait till one of us gets up and depending on his mood—whether he is hungry or not, and other factors I can only guess at, he will greet us or just raise an eye and go back to sleep.  But, every once in a while he won’t.  Instead, he will stand by the closed door to the rear of the house and scratch at it while making mewling sounds.  They’ll get louder and eventually turn into a whine, and if that doesn’t do the trick he will begin to do his best imitation of the Hound of the Baskervilles.


Now this sounds amusing, and it is mostly, but the point is that he has learned that this behavior gets him what he wants.  I can’t really blame him, it is a learned behavior and it is rewarded with what he seeks—our company. We taught him this, even if it wasn’t our intent.


As infants, we learn this little trick, when we are hungry, soiled our diapers or just plain cranky for reasons we don’t even understand.  We whimper, we cry and fuss until someone comes and comforts us.  And we learn that the way to be soothed is to make a fuss. As we grow older our techniques may change, moping, whining, sulking and acting out are typical ways we attempt to get our way.  To the extent that behavior is rewarded we are constantly getting reinforcement and learning the art of manipulation. 


By the time we reach adulthood, you’d hope we learned that such behaviors are not acceptable ways to get what we want—but every day we see adults, in every profession and walk of life practicing the very same forms of manipulation, emotional blackmail, and attempted coercion.  They’ve learned to withhold affection, complain about everyone and everything but their own actions, ask the world to feel sorry for them, and in dozens of other ways attempt—often very successfully—to behave like an infant.


Politicians in particular are masters at manipulation.  They prey on our fears, biases, anger, greed, on all of our least desirable traits supplying us with a convenient argument.  Elect me and I’ll get you what you want, I’ll solve all your problems. The truth of course is that they can’t and they won’t.  But we still stand by the door whining instead of doing what we can and should to address our problems as best we can by ourselves.


Why do we manipulate others?  Because it works.  My dog has figured out that his whining is sufficiently annoying or painful that I will get out of bed and keep him company just to get him to stop. Babies do the same thing.  We are so conditioned by this behavior from our own infancy that most of us are primed and receptive at the slightest push.  All we need is someone who pretends to agree with us and tells us that he or she is not only as upset about whatever is bothering us but they are ten thousand times angrier.  They won’t stop there—they’ll tell us that things are even worse than we think, that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and only they can stop it.  They’ll tell us whatever we want to hear, point fingers at anyone who says otherwise, at anyone who does not agree with them and tell us they are the enemy. And we’ll believe them.


Being an adult isn’t easy.  When there is no one else to fix what’s wrong, comfort us when we are in pain, when we are fully responsible for ourselves and our own actions it can feel terribly lonely.  Anyone who throws us a bone, who tells us it is all going to be ok, that we are right to be angry at the cards we’ve been dealt and so many other falsehoods, isn’t our friend—they are just looking for what we can reward them with, our vote, our money our adulation. If we are very fortunate in life we have a few friends, family, some loved ones who really will stand by us, comfort us when we are hurt.  That’s who deserves our affection, respect, and love, not some stranger with something to gain and nothing to give.


We manipulate others to try to get what we want and we are manipulated in turn by others who push our emotional buttons, who incite or inflame or appear to soothe us.  We should always ask ourselves why?  What is it they want?  Are we so foolish as to think that sheer altruism motivates their actions, their words?  Or, somewhere inside do we know we are being manipulated and don’t care, because we’ve become convinced that if we just ignore that fact, do what everyone around us is doing, everything will be ok for us, we’ll get what we want.


My dog howls because he doesn’t know any other way to soothe himself.  We should know better. 

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