Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Four Tools of Manipulation, Part Three: Flattery

     It is now time to introduce another tool of manipulation. This tool is the most commonly encountered, and so often is its use exposed in history and literature one would think the general population would by now have some form of awareness regarding it. Alas, it seems that the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. And so flattery remains, as it has been from the introduction of sin, one of the deadliest tools of manipulation.

     Flattery is a very clever and easily accessible tool. At a rough estimate, I would say that it has at least a 90% success rate. It’s kind of shameful to admit to this; in essence, flattery works so well because it appeals to our pride. Flattery is any behavior designed specifically to make you feel good or feel that you are exceptionally good— or intelligent, pretty, kind, athletic, or whatever it is that you want to be.

     We usually like to think that we can spot flattery from a mile away, but unfortunately this is rarely the case. In the first place, we don’t see flattery for what it is because we really don’t want to. This brand of cunning toadyism is designed to maneuver your ego to a point at which it obscures your common sense and then proceed to swell it and swell it until it is quite impossible to see around it unless the most assiduous efforts are made. And by this point we are usually feeling a sort of bloated complacency which unfortunately results in a crippling inability to see clearly. And this makes perfect sense when you think about it: why on earth would you question something that makes you feel so good? It would be like asking how many calories are in your favorite chocolate chip cookie: depressing. But just as the truth about chocolate chip cookies (too many of them, though they are intensely delicious, will damage your health), the truth about flattery can be very beneficial. If you know that chocolate chip cookies are not good for you, you will not eat so many as you have been (most of us are like that, anyway… I seem to have a convenient ability to forget unpleasant truths about desserts with amazing rapidity), and you will by this maneuver become stronger and healthier. It is exactly the same with flattery. Tasty for a moment, but deadly in excess.

     Another reason flattery is difficult to spot is that very often it does not look like what we believe it should. Most of us, when the word “flattery” is spoken, usually picture a greasy, weaselly little man who does nothing all day but issue a constant stream of greatly exaggerated compliments. But flattery is so, so much than compliments. It can be anything: an admiring glance, a perceived want to be around you all the time, a general attitude that you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Or even — and this is the most insidious of all — sharing secrets all the time. Yes, you heard me right. The sharing of one’s secret heart or confessing sins all the time can often be used as a form of flattering manipulation. And it is. This behavior sends a message of, “I trust you. I think you are honorable enough to keep this secret. And I also want you to know all about me because I think you’re awesome and clever.” If you recall our dear friend Mr. Wickham, you will remember that this tool of manipulation is exactly the one with which he conned Elizabeth Bennet. He told her the tragic secrets of his past (“We grew up together, Darcy and I.”), thereby earning her trust through the deceitful method of pretending to give her his own. She felt that here was a man who thought her trustworthy, and in return she deemed him the same. This is another of those things that we are very disinclined to believe of our fellow men. We shrink from the idea that someone will use their own weaknesses or secret stories to manipulate us.

     Not, of course, to imply that anyone sharing a secret or confessing a sin is automatically manipulating you. That would be a silly claim to make. Sometimes people honestly need a confidant, or maybe you are in a position to help out. Likewise, all compliments are not necessarily flattery. But I’m not going to tell you how to differentiate between manipulation and sincerity. You, if you are actually intelligent enough to be reading this yourself and not having it read aloud to you, are smart enough to distinguish between flattery and honesty. Open your eyes, people. Really, it’s not that hard. Flattery is flattery and it looks and feels like it. You know when you are being flattered. We all do. It’s up to you now to swallow your pride and get rid of the flatterers in your life. It’s the only way: if you refuse to let your pride be fed on this insidious skullduggery, you’re pretty much safe. The victims of flattering manipulators are rarely unwilling. In short, flattering manipulation is very easy to evade, and though it does not feel very good in the beginning— no pain no gain, buddy. Pride is not good for you. Get rid of it. You’ll feel better.

     Trust me.

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