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Beware the Velvet Gloves

Dumb, dumb, double-dumb me! It has taken me all this time to realise a horrendous hoax that the system (particularly in the form of cult-busters) has been playing on me and a lot of other independent, self-made leaders.

To get some idea (in an entertaining way) about what I am going to discuss in this article, I recommend that people view the movie "Office Space" and observe how the boss is able to get his employees to do almost anything for him, just by being super smooth in how he requests(?) it. The movie is obviously over the top, and so it exaggerates how the techniques operate, but the point is still well-made.

It is the natural desire of virtually every company in the world to control its employees in those areas where the employees can be used to make money for the company. So it is understandable (with literally hundreds of billions of dollars at stake) that these companies would use every means at their disposal to locate any tactic, strategy, or ploy that is available to achieve their desired ends. And basically what they have discovered is that you can get more bees with honey than with vinegar.

In itself, that is not such a bad discovery. In fact, it is quite likely that a good deal of what they have discovered about how to manipulate and control people is really quite GOOD. The problem is in how it is used. And for me, the problem is in how it can so easily be argued that people who don't know the best manipulative techniques must therefore be dangerous, cruel, and dictatorial leaders. I have laboured under a cloud of guilt for many years because I did not know how to lead with the apparent ease that many, if not most, leaders in the system possess.

Let me explain. If someone is using a computer and I have an urgent message that needs to go out, I don't know any better than to say something like, "As soon as you find a good stopping point, can you let me sit there and send this urgent message."

But if I had been trained by the system, I would know that I could do the same thing without saying a word. I could stand next to the person using the computer, looking over their shoulder... until they feel uneasy, turn to me, and say, "Do you want to use the computer?" Nothing bossy about that, and I still get my way.

Suppose I want someone to do some other little favour for me. Once again, uneducated as I am, I would be inclined to just say, "Hey could you do such and such for me?" But a smart manipulator would say, "Would you like to do such and such?" and, at the same time he/she would be nodding his/her head gently up and down. Research has found that this nodding of the head is kind of infectious, and so the person nods yes in return. In the end, the boss doesn't even have to thank the employee for doing him or her a favour, because the "request" is done in such a way that the boss becomes the one doing the favour, i.e. by allowing the employee to do what the employee has just said that he or she would LIKE to do.

This business of "saying things without saying things" can be used to get your way and to make the other person feel that they are the ones who should be grateful at the same time. Is it unethical? I'm not sure. Certainly we have all learned to find some tactful ways to manipulate other people. We have, for example, discovered that "asking" is preferable to outright "demanding", even though the request may have "Do it or you're going to be in trouble" written all over it. So, within some vague limits, such smooth techniques are probably not only permissible, but perhaps they are quite Christian.

My problem isn't with the techniques so much as it is with two other things. One is the way the techniques are used (i.e. whether they are being used to achieve selfish ends or whether they are being used to achieve unselfish ends), and the other is with the assumption that someone who knows the techniques is necessarily more spiritual, Christian, enlightened, or in some other way morally superior to people who do not know the techniques.

First, let us talk about the way that the techniques are used. The movie "Office Space" illustrates (in its exaggerated style) how the techniques are generally used selfishly, and how terribly frustrating it can be to be on the receiving end of such manipulation. You get this feeling that you are being manipulated, and yet it often takes a lot of insight and effort to trace the feeling back to its real cause. The reason is that whenever you start getting close to the cause (a selfishly manipulative leader), you see this lovely smiling face saying things that seem to be soft, accommodating, reassuring, and complimentary. Certainly THAT cannot be the source of the problem, and so you assume that it's something that YOU did wrong that is making you feel anxious. I don't think this is fair.

I once had a grievance against someone. He had said some things that appeared to be deliberately insulting to me. I asked a trained social worker to help with sorting out the disagreement. But this social worker told me before the meeting that it was important for me to understand that I could only talk about how I "felt"... that my perceptions might not be the perceptions of the other person, and so the purpose of the meeting was not to pass judgment on anyone, but just to let me share something about my perceptions. Nevertheless, when the time came for the meeting, I pulled out "evidence"... i.e. a page of quotes showing what the other person had actually said. That was a serious mistake. I had overstepped what I was allowed to do. And the entire meeting was, I'm afraid, deemed a failure, and something which must not be allowed to happen again.

Once again, it was a case of dumb, dumb, double-dumb me just clumsily producing evidence to suggest that the other person had done something wrong... you know, the way they do in courts of law every day of the week. And dumb, dumb, double-dumb me was thinking that the mediator could then do like a judge in a court does, and decide whether or not the other person had done anything wrong.

I need to interject at this point that getting people to avoid judgments when discussing differences is, on the whole, a very good thing. It can be quite a challenge to deal with differences entirely in terms of finding peace within yourself. But I still feel that it is often a case of educated specialists putting heavy burdens onto other people that some of us may not be able to bear. The average uneducated person just clumsily speaks the truth, and yet they are judged by this new world of manipulation as being guilty of not knowing how to conform to the new rules about never saying that someone else is wrong.

This mentality works to make sincere loving parents feel guilty for correcting or disciplining their children. And much the same happens for otherwise good school teachers. Obviously, we are not in favour of real abuse, and it would be good if we could all learn how to be more tactful, gentle, and subtly manipulative in leading. But the real criteria for judging a good leader should not be in the tactics they employ so much as in what they are actually teaching and why they are teaching it.

Now let me relate this in particular to the idea of small new religious groups. The religious establishment does not like anyone coming along and saying that the establishment as a whole is up to no good... and some of the small new religious groups do appear to be saying such things. If they felt otherwise, they would probably not need to exist. They could just work with the old establishment.

Because the small new religious movements are usually led by uneducated, self-taught individuals (like myself), all the establishment needs to do is to point out our inability to manipulate according to the amazing techniques that have been developed as the result of a huge body of research by hundreds of multi-national corporations (in other words, by the system), and they can say that such groups are dangerous, because they are being led by authoritarian control freaks... sinister manipulators. And our clumsy efforts to tell followers in straight forward language what we think they should do in certain situations is presented as evidence of our authoritarianism.

But it is only now that I have started to see just how hypocritical, cruel and dictatorial these truly manipulative techniques can be, and especially how unopen they are to scrutiny, largely because the bottom line is that they have said what they have said without saying anything. People are manipulated through hints and flattery and body language in such a way, that it is assumed that the people doing the manipulating cannot be anything else but "nice guys". Yet behind those masks are often some of the most cruel and selfish individuals in the world.

A recent illustration of this was the statements by the the Health Minister of Victoria (Australia) against ever allowing a Jesus Christian to donate a kidney in her state, because the Jesus Christians had the audacity to criticise the system and then publicly admit that they had to lie about how long they knew certain recipients in order to be approved as kidney donors. Everything was turned around to say that the official position of NOT allowing Good Samaritan donors in that state was aimed at protecting the public from the unscrupulous practice of telling lies in the way that the Jesus Christians did. But, of course, the do-nothing mentality of the Victorian Government is the real enemy of people suffering from kidney failure, and all of their rules did not stop us from telling lies (and donating) anyway.

The dumb, dumb, double-dumb Jesus Christians come right out and honestly say, "Yes, we told lies in order to save lives. But we should not have had to do that, if the laws had only allowed us to save lives without having to pretend that we were long-term friends of the people whose lives we tried to save." And the suave, smooth, political opportunists just latched onto that one word "lies" and said, "See there! They told lies. They even admitted that they told lies. Do we want those kind of people in our state? No way! Get them out and keep them out!" The implication, of course, is that these politicians themselves are NOT telling lies. And the media and the general public is so gullible that they just accept what they say as fact.

Well, maybe we aren't as dumb as we look. Maybe we are waking up to the sinister abuse and torture of some of these velvet gloved manipulators. And maybe we are making some progress in making others aware of it. Which, of course, is what makes them hate us the most.
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