Persuasion has a bad reputation, but that’s not her fault. In reality it’s nobody’s fault, and the negative or positive meanings that some words awaken in us have little to do with the words themselves. They have to do instead with the meanings that have been built, sometimes over centuries, for certain words. Unfortunately or fortunately, Persuasion has a cousin named Manipulation who looks a lot like her, but in reality they are very distant relatives whose similarity is only apparent.
Probably the most significant thing about persuasion is that the person using it isn’t trying to get anything out of using it. In other words, persuasion isn’t used for one’s own benefit. Persuasion is the ability to empathize with others, and requires putting oneself in the other’s place, not just in order to understand them, but also – in some cases – to be able to help them.
On the contrary, to use persuasion’s cousin, manipulation, a person needs only their own self-interest. It is important to note that manipulation of all kinds begins and ends in the individual or group that has decided to manipulate. There are no benefits for others except imaginary ones, which in reality do not exist as such. Manipulation generally comes into play when I want something that I can only get through others, and this speaks to me of possession, of desire, of fear, of psychological violence.
It is common and accepted that to impose something on others one has to manipulate, and this manipulation can be grossly or subtly expressed. To manipulate whole groups of people one needs only to appeal to some baseless fear – and most fears are baseless. Others resort to threats, promises, lies, etc. It doesn’t seem to matter how one arouses in others the doubts, hopes, affirmation or negation that are necessary for obtaining benefits. It’s also common and accepted that when I want to convince someone else of something that would benefit me directly or indirectly, I resort to manipulation.
Feelings of guilt, fear, and insecurities of all kinds are the perfect tools for getting something from others. The best manipulations are the ones that appeal to the “common good,” the “needs of the whole,” “our fatherland,” “the neighborhood,” “the community,” etc., calling on guilt, either covertly or up front, to produce or obtain something from that group.
Fortunately, or unfortunately – once again, because I am not sure – persuasion has nothing to do with manipulation. Persuasion truly is an aspiration of the human being, an aspiration that has to do with what is best in us and in others. An aspiration without ulterior motives, with only respect, recognition, and an ability to put oneself in the other’s place. If fears and resentments come together in manipulation, they completely disappear in persuasion.
It is good not to confuse these two young ladies. Persuasion is joyful, warm, sincere, generous, and perceptive. The other is the opposite, but both wear the same dress when they are introduced. They can be recognized by what they produce internally. Persuasion always appeals to what is best in others. She almost never tells me what I should or must do, but simply asks me, “And what would you do?” She always puts me in touch with what is best in me, which is how I keep discovering how different she is from her cousin, and how I keep understanding more and more deeply the meaning of the words, “We aspire to persuade and to reconcile.”
Portland, February 8, 2021