Monday, March 4, 2013

Anger: Setting Yourself Up For Manipulation

I was delighted by the response to my weekend blog “Danielle Smith: Something Wicked This Way Comes” as it provided me with an opportunity to review a technique commonly used to direct people at will and against their will.

That technique is the leveraging of emotion, most specifically the use of anger, to achieve a specific objective.  Unfortunately for those who are expressing anger, it is not their objectives that are being achieved.

The most rabid responses to my blog about Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith drew immediate responses from her supporters such as you “f___ing this” and you “idiotic that” and the like.  It even drew a weak taunt from her press secretary that provided a source of amusement.  I was tempted to direct them to an online Eliza program (a program that simulates a therapist) to watch them get angry with a program that for the most part mirrors what they say back to them.

People who are unable to discuss or debate ideas rationally, respectfully and with data and facts often resort to such tactics, believing that their anger will somehow win the argument.

When it comes to people who prefer to use anger in this way, I could cite some pithy quote such as:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned" - Buddha

I could say things about how anger hurts everyone, doesn’t solve anything and all that stuff, but that will just make them angry for a different reason. Even sharing “feel good” stories like this one don’t work on the truly angry.

The Fence

There once was a little boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.  The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.  It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”

There’s something more important at play that the angry people need to understand.  Here’s a dirty little secret that they probably don’t want to hear.

Oftentimes when people want to direct the will of others (I won’t say manipulate, it sounds too covert), they look for outbursts of emotion. 

Happiness and sadness can be used but outbursts of anger are the indicator of choice.  It is an indicator that screams “I am open to manipulation and eager to have my will unknowingly bent to serve your needs”.

The fact that they don’t know what’s happening makes it the most valuable tool of all.

For when one is acting and reacting out of anger, especially uncontrolled anger, they are most susceptible to being manipulated and directed to perform actions as needed by others.

The angry people have in fact become stepping stones to be used by people who know where they are going, how they are getting there and who are willing do whatever it takes to make their goals a reality.

We should all remember this when we feel our blood pressure rise if we see or hear something that we don’t like.  Not only might we say or do something that we may regret later, we may be opening ourselves up to be used by a master of manipulation.

In the worst case scenario, we may have in fact been intentionally set up.

<Whisper> This is a tactic commonly leveraged by politicians.

When angry people come in my direction, with words and actions that suggest bullying, intimidation and the like, I don’t get angry at all.  I do my best to treat the angry person with respect, civility and dignity, which produces one of two scenarios:

1. The rational person will realize they have erred and cooler heads will prevail (which doesn’t automatically imply agreement between the parties).

2. The truly ignorant will get more angry and indignant, citing their opponent’s “holier than thou attitude” and the like.  Their anger consumes them and distracts them from everything else they would be better spending their time and energy on.

The rational person made a temporary error and recovered.

The ignorant person however demonstrates how useful they have just become … to anyone who can use and leverage emotion to their advantage.

They angry people are, after all, inviting others to leverage them to the other person’s advantage and at their expense.

I’d like to believe that no one deserves to be used as a stepping stone to satisfy the goals of others. 

I believe that human beings are worth much more than that.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), there will always be humans who step up and loudly cry via their actions (knowingly, wilfully or not) - “Use me to serve your needs. My own needs don’t matter.”.

And equally unfortunately, there will always be humans who respond to this and take the “stepping stones” up on their offer.

Are you easily manipulated by others because of unnecessary or inconvenient bursts of emotion?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


PS There are some who will read this and will become immediately angry and will react as such.  It’s unfortunate that they don’t realize that they are the most useful stepping stones of all.

Addendum – March 4, 2013

I was struck by this editorial by David Frum regarding the anniversary of the death of Andrew Breitbart.  In particular, Mr. Frum’s closing paragraph really resonated with me in regards to the subject of this blog and my prior one about Danielle Smith (I underlined specific text for emphasis):

We live in a time of political and media demagoguery unparalleled since the 19th century. Many of our most important public figures have gained their influence and power by inciting and exploiting the ugliest of passions—by manipulating fears and prejudices—by serving up falsehoods as reported truth. In time these figures will one by one die. What are we to say of this cohort, this group, this generation? That their mothers loved them? That their families are bereaved? That their fans admired them and their employees treated generously by them? Public figures are inescapably judged by their public actions. When those public actions are poisonous, the obituary cannot be pleasant reading. – David Frum

1 comment:

  1. Very well done.
    Am working on a fb post on Biblical anger.