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Surviving Manipulation: Lessons Learned, Moving Forward
Are you a conscious manipulator?
One question that has boggled me for decades is: why do bad people exist? And by bad people, I am not referring to common thief or a con man, I am talking about someone that goes to a school, wearing a vest and in that vest contains a bomb, with the evil mastermind plan of detonating the bomb, killing himself first before killing others. Bad people. When I say bad people, I am talking about someone, let’s say a man, that wields a gun, and engages the police for whatsoever reason in a horrid and brutal gun battle when he knows that he is outgunned and outnumbered. And when you ask him why, why don’t you just surrender? He says with an imprudent smile: “I will not go down alone.” Bad people.
And, in fact, because it is not written on the forehead, we have them as friends in our lives, co-workers, and colleagues in our offices. We have them neighbors. In fact, we have them as families. You may rebut and say, ‘I do not have any bad person in my family.’ But then again, I’ll ask you: Have you ever tried to evoke that tendency?
Marketers call it persuasion. Students call it peer pressure. Security experts call it social engineering. But regardless of how you choose to sugarcoat it, I call it manipulation. And the reason why this people exist is because of manipulation — manipulation from family, manipulation from the government, from the society, and above all, manipulation from a leader. In my quest to understand why bad people exist and how to shield myself from manipulation, I embarked on a journey. I made up my mind to study manipulation. And so, I began to devour books by the finest of authors on manipulation: Blair Warren, Robert Greene. They called it persuasion, which, in fact is still a form of manipulation. Blair called his book: The Forbidden Keys to Persuasion. Quite ingenious, I must say, but little did I know that life had other plans for me.
On August 2nd, 2022, it was a dark cold evening. The sun had disappeared beyond the horizon, leaving the sky shrouded in inky blackness. The air was crisp and biting, as it smelled of nothing. And here I was, coming home from the lab, when I received a phone call from a man - let's call him "the man" - that would change the course of my life for the next two months. I was invited to a meeting. Little did I know that the meeting was a cult. I was manipulated to join a cult. And, of course, it wasn’t the illuminati. Most people believe it’s a folklore anyways. If you are wondering whether I’d have joined the illuminati, well, I would say that your guess is as good as mine.
The cult initiation process had a duration of twelve months. I was there for two months. Two months of peace. Two months of profound love. Using the word profound seems like a weak attempt to qualify the magnanimity of the love I experienced. Maybe I should say, transcendental love or soulful love. But one thing was certain: The love the world lacked, this cult had.
“While we often think of cult leaders as having an almost tyrannical hold over their followers, there is another side to their power and it is this enormous capacity to focus their attention on others - especially potential converts. Once some people are exposed to the type of seductive attention they can receive from a charismatic cult leader, some people will spend their entire lives basking in the warmth it gave them and attempting to regain that level of compassion from their ‘guru’” — Blair Warren
Towards the end of my two-month experience in the cult, I began to notice a pattern. Maybe I'm right, or maybe not. But they certainly positioned themselves as the sole bearers of truth. It was as if they had found a seat of wisdom and sat upon it. In science, there are no absolute truths, only approximate truths. However, in this society, they were always right, everyone else was wrong, and they will prove it to you. This is a common manipulative tactic, and most times you would be surprised that everything they say, for some reason, makes so much sense to you. It's a subliminal form of manipulation. Now, let's consider another, perhaps less obvious form of manipulation, one that can sometimes even come across as an act of love.
Stay with me. Today is Mother’s day. Imagine that you have 30 children, all biological. It may seem like a daunting number, but trust me, I know you can handle it. Valentina, the husband of Feodor Vassilyev gave birth to 69 children which is two times more than your children. On this special day, you receive 30 calls, each from one of your children, which is out of the ordinary since they don’t typically call every day. But today, they don’t only call, they speak your love language, showering you with love and giving you their time. At this very moment, the feeling of peace you will experience is indescribable. However, it is important to understand that this phenomenon is known as love bombing and it is a common tactic used by manipulators. Now, imagine you are me, currently doing a PhD, standing at the edge of uncertainty with so many unanswered questions. Do you think you can be manipulated? And for those wondering why we're talking about Mother's Day instead of Father's Day, it's sad that the latter is often less appreciated. So for now, if you're a man, just imagine yourself as a woman for this moment.
You may be surprised about the quality of peace and love I experienced in this cult. The world has taught us that cult societies are bad, and we have believed it. Maybe because of what we see or what the society shows us, we never bothered to ask why. Here lies the danger of a one-sided story that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a celebrated literary figure, has warned us about: that a single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. And so, when you become aware of the other side of the story, you imagine that these stereotypes are untrue because the storyteller this time tries to convince you otherwise, to invalidate the previous story you have been told. After doing this, they fill a vacuum the world created, becoming near impossible for you to leave. But I did leave.
Well, I still cannot believe that I was manipulated. I had knowledge of their existence, having read books about them and understood their strategies well. Yet, I still fell victim to their manipulation. And that’s the thing about knowledge— it puffs you up, making you believe you wear an invisibility cloak. Whereas, what ignorance does is the opposite, it makes you aware of your limitations.
While writing this, I remembered Jim Browning of YouTube — at least that is what people know him by. When it comes to the world of hacking the hackers, Jim Browning is your guy. In a world where we are too quick to post things about ourselves online, Jim’s social media presence is null; his identity is in obscurity. His real name is protected. He exposes scammers on his YouTube channel. I like how Wikipedia describe what he does: Jim Browning infiltrates computer networks run by scammers who claim to be technical support experts and use social engineering. On July 26, 2021, there was a fierce battle of the manipulators, the good and bad. It was a silent war in similitude to the cyber attacks orchestrated by the hacktivist group fsociety in the TV series 'Mr. Robot’. Elliot, or should I say, Jim, was the recipient of this attack. It is common knowledge that silent war rarely ends in a tie. The scammers had their lucky break. They pretended to be YouTube support staff. With over a million followers on Jim’s channel, he was manipulated into deleting his own channel. However, it was reinstated four days later when he found out what had happened. How could Jim be manipulated, you may ask?
I have come to a conclusion that everyone can be manipulated, regardless of gender, educational qualification, intellectual stratification or financial status. Everyone can be manipulated. Knowing that you can be manipulated is deep-seated realization, a sigh of relief that instills a tinge of ignorance into the reams and reams of knowledge you have acquired, subtly making you doubt things. The man doesn't believe that he can be manipulated, which is why I have left and he is still there. It's yet a simple but powerful law.
Dear friends, today, as I conclude my speech, I want to leave you with this thought. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and that is why I advise you to read this excerpt from Blair Warren slowly to soften the pill: The truth is, everyone is a manipulator. Good people, bad people, young people, old people - none of us can escape this fact. If we are going to survive, we are going to manipulate. Of course, no one likes to think of himself or herself in this way. Sure, other people manipulate, but not me. You may say: “I have good intentions. I would never do such a thing.” Now, granted, some people won't go out and do it intentionally, but don't be misled. They'll go out and manipulate just the same. You can count on it. Why? Because manipulation is a part of our very existence. We manipulate the environment, we manipulate people and we manipulate circumstances all in an effort to meet our needs and insure our survival. Denying this doesn't make one less of a manipulator. Denying this makes one a less conscious manipulator. And that can make one a less effective manipulator. Whether we are a conscious manipulator or not, it is important that we equip ourselves with the knowledge to recognize and protect ourselves from it. Let us strive to be kind, to spread love and kindness, so that we can create a world where bad people are the exception rather than the norm.
In love and kindness,