There are issues with the way we talk about manipulative behavior. This is especially notable in the pop culture surrounding concepts like narcissism, psychopathy, and generally cluster B personality tendencies.
A common example would be:
“This person is being nice to me to manipulate me, to get something out of me, therefore the person is being bad.”
One problem here is that manipulation is assumed to be inherently bad. All social behavior is manipulative in actuality. If I buy someone flowers to improve their day, it is that I buy flowers to manipulate their emotions so that they will feel better. It is motivated by the pleasure I experience from doing so, which is a selfish desire on some level. Although, I am also fulfilling someone else’s selfish desire, so my behavior isn’t entirely selfish.
There are also undeniable benefits that could come from helping people that you’ve formed a relationship with. If I were to please a person that I know, trust forms. On some level, a kind of debt forms in their mind for which they will wish to resolve. That is almost entirely why we do favors in relationships. If we did favors for someone and they absolutely never returned any favors, we would be angry and describe the person as parasitic.
But why would we be so petty and demand others return the favor? Well, we don’t exactly demand. We manipulate people with the mere pressure that comes from the potential accusation of being a parasite. A person would lose their precious social credit if they were to exploit people without giving back, particularly if this stained their public identity. Something like emotional blackmail (remember, this is humor to make a point). That is, except when we exploit people outside our bubble of influence, which seems to occur all the time (third world, I’m looking at you).
When we label a positive behavior as manipulative, we assign the evilness attached to the word “manipulative”. When we stereotype a person as a psychopath or as evil intentioned, the ambiguity of the concept of manipulation really begins to shine with a fantastic glimmer like fool’s gold sparkling in a crystal clear stream that is our mind. This ambiguity in what behaviors fit the criteria of manipulation is one of the root problems here. Positive manipulative behaviors can be lumped under the umbrella of “manipulative behaviors” which then has the label “bad” applied to it because of the way manipulation is deemed inherently bad.
To label behavior as manipulative can be manipulative itself!
The particularly bad kind of manipulation too, since it is potentially harmful to whoever is being misrepresented as evil. It even allows us to revoke our empathy for the perceived evil person because “evil people do not deserve our empathy or kindness”, even when they are trying to do nice things for us. This can actually make us the sociopaths. We have to be cautious in how we judge manipulative behaviors. To do so wrongly could be harmful. It could breed war and conflict as both sides begin to view each other as bad.
A list of good manipulative behavior:
- Someone buys you presents to make you happy, build trust, and potentially add you to their list of mutualistic relationships, as long as you return favors too.
- Someone tells you that a car is coming so that you will move out of the way. In other words, someone emits audio waves from their mouth with the intention of predictably influencing your behavior, controlling you like a puppet because they know exactly what makes you behave certain ways under the given circumstances.
A list of bad manipulative behavior:
- A person buys you a present to pressure you to come visit their house for a dinner gathering. . . and then they kill you and eat your flesh.
- A person tells you a car is coming from your left, so you look and get hit by a bus on the right. This person was plotting to murder you.
- Someone finds ways to never return favors and has a long list of justifications that allows them to reap the favors you give them. With this one, it is important to note that some people cannot even afford to be reciprocal. I’d imagine homeless people fit that category.
While you might have thought this list was extensive, it is far from a complete list. If you’d like to include ones I may have forgotten, leave a comment below. There can be a lot of nuance when exploring whether or not manipulative behavior is good or bad. Whether or not the behavior is good or bad comes down to whether or not it is fair, given the current scenario and all of its’ factors. This post is a bit short but I figured some may find it interesting or useful.
We must explore the nuances of the situations that we claim involve manipulation. The “manipulative” person may be a liar, which could be pretty bad. They may also be doing nice favors, which gets debatable. If people start using an over-inclusive definition of “evil manipulation” (manipulation is truly a compound of both words “evil” and “manipulative”, but the word “evil” is silent) then we will find ourselves attributing evil intentions where non exist. Then we might become the “evil” ones.
. . .
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