We all manipulate, and we are all manipulated. There is no one who does not try, in one way or another, at some point or another, to get someone to do something without asking them directly, and without them being fully aware of the request. We see this in the youngest children and also in the elderly. The former seem to have been born with this ability, while the latter have years of learning to use pity and guilt to keep us close and fulfil their wishes. Between the cradle and the grave, we suffer daily from the manipulation techniques of our parents — many of which we have surely replicated with our children— of our spouses, friends, media, politicians, bosses, subordinates... The list is endless.
We all manipulate, and we are all manipulated. It is inevitable, and in normal doses it should not be a big problem. There is a very interesting dialogue in the book "Pastor Pastor", p. 351, between Mabel, one of the participants of the Camp Poimén and Honorio, the instructor, in which she has doubts about the training, which is quite strange and secret, by the way:
“Tell me what's wrong, Mabel.”
“Look, this is all very strange... There's a part of me that says, ‘go ahead,’ and that's why I came, but there's another part that's extremely suspicious. Why can't we know what's behind all this? Why should I open up to you if I don't even know who you are? I've been to many intensive training courses like this one. And you always, in one way or another, end up realizing that you are being manipulated, that you are like a puppet... And I don't like it. I don't like it at all.”
“I understand you perfectly. But we're all constantly subject to attempts at manipulation in life. Advertising, politicians, the media, people at work, spouse, children, relatives. We can't help it. We can only try not to be manipulated. It's like sin. It's everywhere, we know it is, even inside us. The solution is not to turn away toward a perfect world, which on the other hand doesn’t exist, but to get along without being contaminated. I wouldn’t be afraid if I were you. The one who should be afraid is the one who isn’t aware of these attempts at manipulation.”
The theme of manipulation runs throughout the book, in the various personal and group interactions. The readers will have no problem identifying the situations and relating them to their own experiences. But there is one situation that is particularly worrying, that of manipulation in religious settings. Let us look at another example, taken from the same book, on pp. 121-122. The manager of the publishing house, Nita, is giving the presentation of the talk-debate "Manipulation or reality — the rise of cults" and she says,
“We all know that there is manipulation in different areas: in politics, in the media, at work, even in marriages. What is manipulation? I propose this definition: Trying to get us to do something we don't want to do, without our realizing it. Perhaps later in the debate we can improve it. But, while we are used to manipulation in the areas I just mentioned, we find it harder to think that it can happen in an environment as... sacred... as religion. To think that religious concepts can be used to force the will of a person, or a group of people, precisely in a field where freedom, the fulfillment of the human being is pursued, is shocking to us, isn't it?
Why do we manipulate? Because we find it difficult to be transparent, we are not straightforward, we do not value the other person, it is easier for us, we know that we achieve things like this... Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated? Because we don't realise it, because we don't value ourselves, because we accept that this is the normal way to achieve things, because it is installed in society...
The reasons may be these or many more, but I think we have to say clearly that manipulation is wrong. Even though we all do it, it is wrong. Because it denatures human relationships and devalues human beings. The good thing is that there are alternatives. I propose replacing it with its healthier variants: frankness and persuasion.
Frankness means saying what we want. No twists, no frills beyond social and cultural conventions. "I’d like you to visit me more often" instead of "Nobody loves me" or "I know I'm a nuisance to everyone". Or, in a larger setting: "We need so much money to support the church" instead of "God promised to bless the one who gives money" or its more fearsome counterpart: "God punishes those who aren’t generous". In politics: "If you vote for me, I will do my best to reduce poverty by 10%" instead of "If you vote for my opponent everything will fall apart".
Persuasion is valid. It is not bad. I want something I need, and the other person can give it to me or help me get it. At this point he is not willing to do so, but if I give him enough arguments, he can change his mind. If I do it correctly, we will both look good, feel respected and valued. There is nothing wrong with the persuasion of a salesman or a politician, when we know they are in that role of wanting us to buy them something or give them our vote. What is wrong is when sales or politics appear in the context, for example, of a church, disguised as other things.
Let's look for healthy relationships, where we say what we want frankly and accept that the other person responds freely.