Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Introduction to Positive Manipulation


I think that most people would agree this word comes laden with all sorts of negative connotations. Personally, I use the word more loosely than that. But first let's look at what has to say about the word:

Manipulate (məˈnɪpjʊˌleɪt)

— vb

  1. to handle or use, esp with some skill, in a process or action: to manipulate a pair of scissors

  2. to negotiate, control, or influence (something or someone) cleverly, skilfully, or deviously

  3. to falsify (a bill, accounts, etc) for one's own advantage

  4. (in physiotherapy) to examine or treat manually, as in loosening a joint

Now, feel free to discard my thoughts about the word manipulation itself, because I know and accept that I use the word differently than most people use, but I find it very useful. You see, I believe in positive and negative manipulation. Manipulating objects, for example, may or may not take skill. It's easier to manipulate a steering wheel to the desired result than to manipulate a violin to produce the sounds you want to hear.

Manipulation always involves some sort of end goal. The one nice thing about inanimate objects, of course, is that they tend to be very predictable and therefore are easier to manipulate than animate substances like people or animals. (The obvious exception to that statement is computers. They get moody.) I can easily manipulate a chair to move to the right simply by pushing it gently. Although manipulation gets a bad rap most of the time, it clearly doesn't apply to the manipulation of objects, since there are no negative connotations associated with that. In fact, if a person made it a point to never move any objects, they would find it very impractical.

Manipulating people is slightly harder, since they can actually make decisions and choices, and takes a lot more understanding, skill, and patience. Unlike the chair. I realize that “manipulating” people sounds bad. When I say “manipulation,”though, I am referring specifically to manipulation other people to act or think in a certain way. That concept scares people, because when people think of others trying to manipulate them, they usually think of salesman, con men, or pushy, passive-aggressive acquaintances.

"You can trust me completely."

The general feeling seems to be that “If someone is trying to manipulate you, it's sneaky, deceptive, and it's for their good and not yours.” That is one type of manipulation, but I would add that there are many other types of manipulation as well. Whether manipulation is good or not depends on the end goal. Quite simply, manipulation (when it comes to manipulating people) can be defined as follows:

Manipulation is making a certain choice easier for someone.

This definition certainly includes the above mentioned negative examples. If a conman lies to you, he is making it easier for you to make a bad decision which would benefit him. If a salesman offers a payment plan, he is making it easier for you to buy now (and pay later). If someone pressures you emotionally into giving them a ride somewhere, they made it easier for you to choose to just get it over with and drive them to their destination.

On the other hand, this definition also includes many positive interactions. If I hold the door open for someone, I am making it easier for them to decide to go ahead of me. If I offer to pay for dinner, I am making it easier for the other person to decide to have dinner with me. In fact, much of social etiquette is about acceptable manipulation. It is polite to say “come on in” when a guest arrives at your house, and that makes it easier for them to decide to come in. You could just walk toward your living room, and if they are your friend, they will probably know to follow, but that's just not as polite. Asking “would you like some help with that?” makes it easier for the other people to request assistance.

Now, there are also a couple other ways of achieving a goal that involves another person. Let us take for a given that you wish to change someone's behavior. In this instance, let us suppose that you wish for your best friend to go through the door before you do. Let us suppose also that you have a good motive; you think that having someone go first shows respect for them. Now, how can you achieve that goal of getting them to go first? I would say that you have three general options: Power, Influence, or Manipulation. Here are three ways it could go:

Power (force or command): “You need to go in first.”

Influence: “I think that you would enjoy going in first, so go ahead.”

Manipulation: (Opening the door for them)

Positive manipulation is usually referred to as “influence,” which has no negative connotations. However, I think that the word “manipulation” fits better to describe a skillful, subtle, and understated form of graciously making a choice easier for someone. Yes, I do think that positive manipulation is a lot like grace. I'll explain:

Temptation is bad manipulation - it makes it easier for a person to say yes to sin

Grace is good manipulation - it makes it easier for a person to say yes to God

To give another practical example, bad manipulation would be to manipulate you into giving me all your money; I gain, you lose. It's bad because of the end result that I'm shooting for. Good manipulation would be manipulating you into accepting money for food, when you're feeling too proud to accept help. Helping people is gracious. When a Christian confronts someone about sin, they are called to speak “graciously.” This doesn't mean avoiding the ugly truth, it simply means that we are to speak in a way that makes it easier for the other person to make a certain decision (repent).

Obviously, because manipulation is not control, though, people are always free to make the opposite decision. And this is where skill comes in. I mentioned previously that it's easier to manipulate some objects (like pans) to a certain goal than to manipulate other objects (like rockets). Manipulating people also takes a lot of skill. Suppose that you want to influence a person to accept help, but you don't know how. You would need the knowledge, skill, and even practice to make that process a smooth one. It's much easier to accidentally manipulate people to do the wrong thing, actually.

I would go as far as to say that most of the time, when we are around other people, we are unconsciously manipulating them in some way. The more conscious our goals and efforts are, though, the more likely it is to turn out in a positive fashion. We are always making this or that choice easier for people, and the question of whether that manipulation is good or bad must turn to the question of the end goal: Are we manipulating people to their disadvantage, or to their advantage?

Some people are very unpleasant, and behave rudely toward the people around them. They get to the end of the day and wonder “why is everyone always so mean to me?” It's very simple. It's because they accidentally manipulate everyone to be mean to them. I don't mean that being rude and unkind forces people to be rude and unkind to you, but it certainly does make that choice easier to make! On the other hand, those who are genuinely warm, helpful, and even humorous to the people around them sometimes manipulate all those people into a good mood. Most everyone likes to be around those who manipulate them right into a good mood!

Hugs usually manipulate me into feeling happy and cared for

If you want to manipulate someone into doing you a favor, sometimes it helps if you do favors for them when they ask it. If you want to manipulate someone into refusing to help you, all you have to do is sabotage their work a few times, and do them no favors. That will make it a lot easier for them to refuse to help you.

As for personal application, I believe that only certain types of manipulate are acceptable, and only certain types are actually helpful. Personally, I try to only manipulate people honestly, and for their own good. I wouldn't use deceit to make a choice easier for them, because that would be wrong and unloving. That would not be very trustworthy. Also, I don't think it would be right if I manipulated people into making choices that would benefit me and would not benefit them. If a choice is not best for them, then I would not try to manipulate them to make that choice. (Of course, I don't have a whole lot of skill at influencing people in a smooth fashion... but maybe someday my people skills will improve.)

Dimensions of Manipulation:



drwayman said...

I like your definition of manipulation. Nice post :-)

Is manipulation always in our awareness? Can someone unknowingly manipulate another?

Also, strict behaviorists reduce all behavior to "twitches and squirts" with no need for consciousness that everything is simply stimulus>response. Do you consider s>r manipulation?

Is it possible to have an non-conscious organism, like a paramecium manipulate an amoeba? Couldn't a simple s>r mechanism happen without anybody manipulating anything?

Lastly, is it possible that God really has no need to manipulate mankind? Without straying into Deism, is it reasonable to assume that God has set things up so that there is little need for Him to manipulate, that the world is simply s>r?

If so, then does that make the case for the Wesleyan-Arminian view of prevenient grace stronger than it does for the Classical Arminian view of prevenient grace? (Wesleyan-Arminians see everything in the world as being possibly used of God to draw people to Him and Classical Arminians believe that prevenient grace is only offered thru the preacher word.)

Or if so, does that make a better case for exhaustive determinism?

I'm just thinking out loud, these are not well-refined questions. My views are open to your manipulation ;-)

Skarlet said...

Dr Wayman, I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. I'll try to answer all your questions, but I may lump some of them together. You asked “Is manipulation always in our awareness? Can someone unknowingly manipulate another?” No, we're not always aware of it, and yes people can unknowingly manipulate others. For instance, a person may smile and say “please” when asking for the butter to be passed, without consciously realizing that they made the choice to pass the butter easier for the other person.

You mention that strict behaviorists reduce all behavior to stimulus>response, but I would say “cause/effect” is a better way to describe the position. You see, a response can be intentional and more complication than simple reaction. I would say that cause/effect counts as manipulation, because you can manipulate objects. (I do not think that people are objects or just animals, though, so I don't hold to strict behaviorism)

“Is it possible to have an non-conscious organism, like a paramecium manipulate an amoeba?” Well, in my mind, manipulation involves some sort of end goal. A non-conscious organism does not have an end goal, and therefore cannot manipulation anything or anyone. It may affect things, but it doesn't manipulation.

You ask whether is it possible that God has set things up so that there is little need for Him to manipulate, that the world is simply stimulus>reaction, and I would say that God could have done that; it would have been possible for him to do that. I don't believe that He did, though. This viewpoint is from personal experience and from interpretation of Scripture; repentance involves responding to the same old stimulus of temptation in a new way (doing the right thing, instead of sinning again, though the help of the Holy Spirit).

In the hypothetical case that the world was completely direct cause/effect, though, that would make a very strong case for determinism rather than either type of prevenient grace view. This would be because all behavior would be determined – without free will – simply by the stimulus presented, which reacted to the stimulus presented to it, all the way back to the beginning of the world.

drwayman said...

Skarlet - Please don't ever feel obligated to answer me, especially when I get verbose. I did ask a lot of questions, didn't I? Sorry about that. It was more of a free flow of thought; however, I appreciate the time you took to answer me. I wrote a bunch of free thought and I see that you did follow me however. So, that means I am at least not crazy alone :-)

You say cause and effect. Nevertheless, a strict behaviorist (which I am not either) would say that is still too broad. That this world is strictly stimulus>response. Just squirts and twitches.

IF we look at the world as s>r and call that manipulation, then a paramecium can manipulate an amoeba. IF it is not called manipulation, then it is an amoeba simply responding to the stimulation of the paramecium, because as you put it, there is no end goal.

Yet, the paramecium is just traveling and the amoeba gets in the way. The paramecium has a goal, its just not a conscious goal. So, following your reasoning, the goal would have to be a conscious goal to be able to manipulate?

In light of God's complexity, each of us could be compared to an amoeba except that God gave us a soul, an awareness of an awareness. I agree with you that God has not set up the world as an s>r environment.

However, if one makes a case for exhaustive determinism, could that not simply be a conclusion one makes (that the world is truly s>r)? Since God already predetermined all events, are we not simply responding as God preplanned by presenting stimuli and knows how we will respond because He also preplanned our response? It seems like you agree when I look at your last sentence :-)

Again, thanks for the conversation. I hope I didn't stray too far from the intent of your post...

Skarlet said...

Dr. Wayman, no worries about straying from the original topic. I welcome all thoughts that come up in response to what I write! Anyway, it's interesting how we use different terminology here. I use “cause/effect” to describe the strict behaviorist's viewpoint because a “response” can be intentional and changing (as opposed to a natural reaction.) Control over response leads to respons-ibility. But, I will use your terminology here, with the clarification that in the context of “stimulus>response,” the stimulus DETERMINES response.

You asked “following your reasoning, the goal would have to be a conscious goal to be able to manipulate?” To a certain degree, yes. I don't think that blocks of wood can have a goal. I think that dogs can have a goal. It takes a certain amount of brain mass, more than a paramecium would have, to qualify as intention.

Now, with that said, manipulation does not require a conscious motive in regard to the manipulation. It only requires an intention in some direction, which leads to the manipulation. For instance, if my goal is to get to the front of the line first, and in the process I shove you to the side, that is manipulation. It will probably make it easier for you to speak roughly or harshly toward me. That wasn't my goal, but my goal did result in my actions, which were unintentionally manipulative.

I don't really think that we can be compared to amoeba, though, because God gave us a much higher level of cognition so that we can relate to him, think, etc. I believe that we also have a spirit in addition to having a soul, but that's another story.

If one holds to theological determinism, then I would very much agree that they could also believe in physical determinism. Much of strict behaviorism is physical determinism.

It's like Chesterton said: “I found the whole modern world talking scientific fatalism; saying that everything is as it must always have been, being unfolded without fault from the beginning. The leaf on the tree is green because it could never have been anything else. Now, the fairy-tale philosopher is glad that... every color has in it a bold quality as of choice... But the great determinists of the nineteenth century were strongly against this native feeling that something had happened an instant before. In fact, according to them, nothing ever really had happened since the beginning of the world. Nothing ever had happened since existence had happened; and even about the date of that they were not very sure.”

drwayman said...

Skarlet - You said that you don't think we can be compared to amoeba. True. However, what I meant (sorry for not being clearer) is in just talking about complexity. There is no comparison between the complexity of an amoeba and a human. There is no comparison between the complexity of a human and God. That's all I meant.

I agree with you, we are created to relate to God. An amoeba is not created to relate to us.

I LOVE Chesterton. He wrote a book on Aquinas that is outstanding and he did it with very little research of Aquinas. Chesterton was a character and a genius. C.S. Lewis was one of his biggest fans :-)

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