Friday, October 9, 2009

Billowing Sails

I've written in the past on manipulation.  I've pondered the phenomenon extensively.  First hand, I've been severely manipulated and I'm here to admit that I've dished out my share too, over the years.  While, I'm not perfectly refined in my ability to resist its influence, or for that matter to resist using it occasionally, I have become more keenly aware of its insidious presence.

Yesterday I was called on the carpet for going on strike at work.  My strike could be construed to be manipulation except for one important, missing element.  Manipulation is defined as playing upon someone else to ones own advantage.  I was striking for the kids' (my clients in this case) advantage not my own.  I went to work there in the first place for the kids, not myself.    Now, having said that, I'm quite certain that my employer will, to some degree, doubt that claim.  Though he probably doubts it less now, than he did before.  Without going into detail, I struck, because my clients were being cheated out of respectful, competent service and I was determined to get it for them.  I had attempted for three weeks to use diplomatic means to accomplish my ends, but to no avail.  In the end the strike failed too.

Anyway, back on the carpet, the meeting began with a threatening posture.  I was amused, because I felt no threat and told them as much.  There was nothing they could do to me that in anyway distressed me.  This was very difficult for me to get across to them.  One, in particular, is a "died in the wool" control freak.  Manipulation is his sword.  It was as if I was a ghost and his sword passed through me with no effect.  He kept on swinging it repeatedly, as if the next blow might somehow make contact.  His frustration reddened his face like a rising thermometer.  Had I parried with a sword of my own, it would have been different.  Instead the wind he blew on me passed harmlessly by, because I had not furled my ego sails.  I had nothing to prove, no reason to resist, so I didn't.

I have long concluded that there are essentially three things one can do to respond to a manipulator.  They are: comply, lie and rebel.  If you think about it, those are, in order, the way we usually respond to manipulation.  In my encounter yesterday, I discovered a fourth.  I'm not sure what one word I can give it.  Release, perhaps.  Ignore?  Not quite.  Um, how about Evade.  Still, not right.  I guess I'll have to think about that for a while.  Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Anyway, this fourth method is a difficult one, had I, for example, been a young father with a family to care for and protect.  My controlling, manipulating boss would likely have had much more power to influence me.  I'd have had my responsibility sails furled and his wind would have pushed me right where he wanted me.  The fabric of such sails is not canvas, but fear.  I would have feared letting my family suffer the consequences of my lost job.  He'd have had me right where he wanted me.  I'd have been forced to reject my quest in exchange for capitulation and compliance,  Probably too, I'd have had to grovel and plead for forgiveness and a second chance.  Pride after all doesn't demand humility, but humiliation.  Then, I'd have had to endure doing my job at a level that was beneath what I've been given to offer and less beneficial to the kids.  The consequence of which is a numbing, drudgery of unhappiness and regret.

When I was a kid, my Dad got in a fist fight with one of the students at school.  He was Vice-Principal at the time.  He and the kid went to their respective homes to clean up.  Serious blood had been spilled.  The faculty, including my Mom, had an emergency meeting in which they informed the administration that if that youth was ever allowed to darken the doorway of the school again, they'd all walk.  Their resolve was unanimous!  Meanwhile, Dad was at the student's house, working out a resolution to their conflict.  Part of that resolution was an agreement that the boy would be well behaved and that Dad would tutor him to ensure his graduation.  When Dad discovered that the faculty had insisted the boy be permanently expelled, he plead for them to change their minds.  They wouldn't.  So, Dad went on strike.  For six weeks he stayed out; privately tutoring the young man.  Unpaid, for six weeks, he stuck by his guns and quietly lobbied the other teachers until they finally rescinded their decree and allowed the youth back in school.  There was no further trouble.  The boy graduated.

The wind the faculty blew on my father had no effect.  Why is that?  I think it was because of Dad's determination to do the right thing and because of his faith that regardless of the consequences the right must prevail.  Perhaps if the fabric of our sails is faith, rather than fear, the ill winds of manipulation will always have no effect, furled or not.

Now, you might say that I failed to follow my father's example because I quit.  You might be right.  But as I saw it I had only two choices.  It was made plain that the condition, under which I would be allowed to keep my job, was to continually unfurl sails of fear.  I wasn't willing to do that, so with no drama and no misgivings, I humbly resigned.

When we deal with these troubled youth we often counsel them to quit justifying themselves and start dealing with their issues.  My boss wouldn't follow his own advice.  Not once in our interview did he consider the issues I had, but rather all of his language was focused on justifying his position.  Things are not about to change under those conditions.  So another way of looking at it is pride versus humility.  If the winds of pride blow on prideful sails there is certain to be resistance.  That resistance changes the position of the boat.  But if the sails are woven with fabric of humility, the winds of pride have little effect.  Consider Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for example.  The King, manipulatively threatened them, but they were humble and full of faith.  Even the threat of the fiery furnace failed to alarm them, or to change their position.

I still don't have a word for it exactly, but today I've concluded that if our sails are woven with the warp of faith and woof of humility, and if our ship is rigged with masts of truth, a hull of integrity, rigging of discipline and with God at the helm, the winds of fear and pride will not harm us and the winds of love and joy will propel us to the safe harbor of God's embrace.

Note:  The people I mentioned here are not bad people.  They are good, faithful Latter-day Saints.  They are just like me, doing the best they know how.  Were I in their shoes, I might, quite likely, have behaved just as they did.  I left their names out for that very reason.  Perhaps I should further apologize for even using their story to illustrate what I'm just now trying to learn myself.  In most respects they are better people than I am.  They just made such good fodder for my further examination of manipulation that I couldn't resist the opportunity.


Booklogged said...

You are wise beyond your years. This is a good lesson for all of us to learn.

Sherry said...

I very much enjoyed your story and lesson. Your image of a manipulator's sword going through a ghost was beautiful. Small, stumbling correction to make: Furled sails are tied up, made smaller. They are furled to lessen the impact of the wind during a storm and unfurled to catch the wind in good weather.
May we have the wisdom to know when we should furl sails and when we should hoist the largest we have to make progress. Write on!
PS I'm still thinking of the proper word you were searching for when not reacting to manipulation. Good thinking exercise.

Candleman said...

Thank you Sherry for the comment and especially for the word correction, which I have amended. Learn something every day around here. Let me know if you come up with "the" perfect word!

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