Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Four Tools of Manipulation, Part One: Fear

     The first tool many people reach for when they want to manipulate someone is fear.

     Fear is a clumsy and unrefined tool. It does not require great skill or any amount of subtlety to yield, only a certain level of power. You know immediately when you are being manipulated through intimidation. And yet fear is special because, even though everybody with a reasonable level of human intelligence can spot it, the vast majority will cave in to it. Even those who think themselves brave are usually easily cowed into submission. Manipulation through fear has proved to be blaringly obvious, yet, in a stunning and unfortunate twist of fate, amazingly effective. Why, though? Allow me to explain:

     Fear is, in essence, dislike of the idea that you will lose something you value. This can be just about anything: a job, your reputation, a friendship, security in your social circle, bodily comfort. The list goes on and on. An aggressor doesn’t need to be clever or subtle: he only needs the power to back up his threats. This power can take many different forms. Sometimes it is official power, sometimes it is unofficial power. Official power belongs to anyone who is formally authorized: managers in the workplace, government officials, pastors, leaders of organizations, a man with a newspaper column or radio show. Unofficial power takes a million and one different forms: anyone with even a mildly influential connection with the higher-ups, or that one charismatic guy that everyone just seems to like. Possibly he is just that pugnacious kid who likes to punch people in the nose. Any one of these people are intelligent enough to recognize that they have the ability to take something from you that you value, and many of them will use it. Aggressive manipulators have highly varying styles, too. One man will state clearly exactly what he is going to do to you (probably with angry shouts), while another might act mild-mannered and friendly in person, but you just know that the second you turn your back he will destroy you. The technique is varying, but they all send the clear message: “Obey or suffer.” Aggressive manipulators come in all shapes and sizes: muscular or stringy, blunt-featured or weaselly-looking. But they all have one thing in common: they want something you have and they have the power to make you give it to them.

     Actually, it’s even possible that they don’t have the power. Some only need to be intelligent enough to convince you that an external source will punish you if you resist them. Most will use the name of the Lord to frighten you into submission. They employ threats such as, “If you go against me, you are going against the anointed authority of God, and are therefore going against God Himself!” They tell you that if you do not follow their rules (which they have fabricated purely for their own advancement, but which they pretend to be able to support biblically), you will go to Hell. They are clever at making you doubt your own competence to interpret Scripture on your own. That is what the Pope did all during the medieval times, and that is what men continue to do this very day. They don’t have the power to take what you value, but they will make you think another person will. In effect, they are putting themselves in the position of God’s only prophet, and sadly the vast majority of us are not smart enough to see through this thinly veiled charade.

     Mr. Wickham, our friend from Pride and Prejudice, was a very intelligent and capable user of fear. When Mr. Darcy discovered who he really was, why did he not expose his lack of morals to the world, thus saving many from Wickham’s path of destruction? Because he was afraid. Wickham, though he did not tell Darcy in so many words, had the power to ruin both Darcy’s reputation and that of his sister. And Mr. Darcy knew that he would use it. And so what did he do? Nothing. He did absolutely nothing. He caved in to a despicable man and so Wickham prospered and grew. If he had spoken up, how different would the famous story have turned out? Much better, I think. Lydia, though she is a silly and annoying child and deserved what she got, would not have been stuck in a terrible marriage. And I would have liked Mr. Darcy better if he had some guts. I wish I could think well of him, but the man is a jellyfish, and if there is one character trait in the whole world that I absolutely loathe beyond expression, it is weakness. I think his life would have been better, too, if he had spoken up. He wouldn’t have had the shadow of Wickham’s perfidy hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles. And if a few people believed Wickham’s story and hated Mr. Darcy, so what? The truth would have won out eventually. Darcy caved in to manipulation by fear.

     And will you cave? Probably. Historically, most of us do. I know we all like to think of ourselves as courageous and immune to bullies, but statistically, at least eighty percent of people will crumble under the first sign that things will get hairy. I’m sorry to say so, but the majority of the human race is made up of wimps. Loss is an idea so hideously repugnant to us that many spend a lifetime running from it. They look brave too, sometimes. They laugh in the face of physical danger. They wrestle wild boars and slay them with their bare hands. They roll their eyes and keep on marching if a hunting buddy accidentally shoots them in the leg. They are not afraid of heights, mice, snakes, spiders, or other common phobias that afflict the rest of us. They surely resemble Hercules! But when the going really gets tough…? What if an aggressive manipulator threatens to ruin a friendship? Or what if he will take away this man’s security in his social circle? What if the manipulator will destroy Hercules’ reputation? I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the men who possess gigantic physical courage are often subdued with stunning ease. They curl up into a ball and sit quietly until they are given permission to get up. When it comes to things they truly do value (mostly their illusions of security inside their particular social circle), the strength they thought they had deserts them with shocking speed. It’s saddening, really, not to mention slightly contemptible. Aggressive manipulators can tread on these Herculean specimens of humanity as though they were nothing more than a bed of daisies. They surely wield great power!

     Or so they think.

     Yes, they do have the power to take something you love. They have the power to destroy your reputation or snatch your job. They can hurt you. But they can only bend you to your will if you let them! Only if you are afraid to lose these things, if you are thoroughly convinced that your life would be nothing without them, does an aggressive manipulator have any power over your thoughts and actions. But think! Think, ladies and gentlemen. How much power to take do these people really have? A lot, I’m afraid. They do have the ability to destroy some friendships or your job. But the things that really are important? They’re untouchable. And I’ll tell you why: it’s because we have a loving God who will never, not for a single measure of time in its smallest increment, turn His back on us. He knows what we really need in this life, what will really make us grow and be truly happy. And He will not allow those necessary things to be snatched from His beloved children. Faith is the antidote to fear of men. If you are doing nothing but what you know to be God’s will, He will not turn and reward you with misery all your life (not to say you won’t have trials if you behave nicely, but it still remains that you suffer more if you allow yourself to be trodden upon). If you have a rock-solid, unshakeable conviction that God loves you and wields all the true power in the universe, then what have you to fear? Men? Ha! Not a chance, friends.

     Not a chance.


  1. Great post Andrea. I loved it. It reminded me of all the times I rolled over and failed to stand up. Things like this are a good reminder of who is really in control and gives me courage!

  2. Thanks, Micah! I'm glad you liked it. :-)

  3. Cindy BlackamoreMay 15, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    Hi Andrea: I love that you have obviously found true freedom which comes when we learn to love and trust God with all our heart and soul, while at the same time recognizing not everything "Christian" is truly of Christ. I think strongly you will know exactly what I'm talking about. :D - Cindy Blackamore


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