We're All Manipulators. Yes We Are

Twenty years ago when I was just a young, green, and clueless novice monk, our abbot called me in and sat me down.

“It’s not that you’re a liar, but you’ve got a problem with telling the truth. You need to change that.”

Of course, it was a bit of a blow, since I considered myself anything other than a liar, but seeing how obedience goes with being or becoming a monk, I got down to work and spent the following years contemplating ‘Truth’ and observing my behavior.

Slowly it dawned on me that he was right. I didn’t tell lies, but I tended to present things in a way that was beneficial to my goals and so I would bend the truth, rather than break it.

So I changed it. I resolved to never say anything that I knew was untrue, and never to misrepresent things in a way that suited my purposes.

Years later, after I’d become a truthful Ethic whose lips never uttered a lie (note the self-sarcasm, thank you) someone pointed out that I was manipulative. Another heavy blow. I only wanted the best for others, right? Win-win for the world etc? So why was I being accused of this?

After some soul-searching I came to the conclusion that manipulation is actually inherently tied to life itself. Everybody and everything that lives does it. You too.

If I pick up a glass, I manipulate matter. If I talk to you, I manipulate your attention towards me. A plant manipulates grains of sand to make space for its roots. The wind manipulates clouds and seeds across the globe. If someone is saying sensible things to you, he manipulates your opinion. If a marketer fires off his pitch, he manipulates your buying faculty.

There is no one in this world who is not a manipulator. Except for that yogi in India who has sat still for a decade without ever moving or eating. And even he manipulates air in and out of his lungs, though he claimed he would stop doing that as well.

What made the big change for me after I’d been accused of being a manipulator, was this: We can do it because it just happens as part of life, or we can do it consciously. And if we become conscious and aware of how unavoidable it is, we can actually use it to the benefit of others, as well as for the default ‘self-interest’ motive that drives so many people.

We can use this fact of life to create happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, whatever you feel is needed to make this world better.

So go do it. Do it for your brother, your spouse, your business. Use what you can’t avoid to advance us. Please.

Caveat: Once you realize that your effort isn’t going anywhere with a person, a business, or the project you’re working on, stop. Too many horses have been beaten to death already. Regroup and restart.

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