Cultural Confusion: Manipulation, Straight-talk, Tribalism, Forgiveness, Co-dependency, Enabling, and Politics! (The Answer To Everything Human)
I’m sure I could add to the above string of key words – words that describe how our society functions generally, and how this shows up in Washington and elsewhere as political outcome.
We should not be so surprised, should not be so outraged.
We need useful ‘tools’ for studying human nature. Useful to study a culture shot through with practice of the key-words above. Practices found in each and every individual, and in the groups to which they belong.
Psychology is the most appropriate ‘tool’ to “see” what’s actually at work. To figure out what’s really happening. The field of study is ‘human community’ and individual choices within that community.
The practice to figure out what’s happening is diagnostic, analytical. We examine ourselves so we can get to the heart, the core, the basement, if you will, of what we are witness and experience, and what we do about it.
Instead of hanging around in the kitchen or on the patio at ground floor level, wondering what that smell is – we go to find out.
The smell comes from the basement, (the foundation, the heart, the core).
Consider the above list “Word List #1”, (manipulation, straight-talk, tribalism, forgiveness, co-dependency, enabling, … ). Consider them ‘behaviors’.
Here’s “Word List # 2”: Hopes, dreams, wishfulness, greed, insecurity, cleverness, real dependency situations, real need, even compassion and honesty. Consider Word List #2 ‘drivers’ for the behaviors in Word List 1.
None of the behaviors or drivers are uniquely “American”, they are human.
(Take a look at daily news from around the world!)
These behaviors and drivers are not only human right now, they are historically human. Read the Bible, read history, read Shakespeare! Read novels, read poetry, listen to lyrics of any kind of music!
Listen to, and watch (observe) yourself, your neighbors, your local population, … you will discover drivers and behaviors named in the lists.
Read psychology. While you’re at it – read up on “co-dependency” and “manipulation”. These two are among the most active unhelpful behaviors we’ve got going among ourselves. They are both so common they can be labeled as “cultural practices”. Where do they come from? What drivers in our psychological make-up might cause us to participate in co-dependency or in manipulation?
My interest here is not in inter-personal and family relationships, where co-dependency and manipulation are most explored. Typically, both co-dependency and manipulation are seen as “power issues”. One person (for reasons of greed? anxiety?) needs to develop and maintain ‘power over’ another. The less powerful person (for reasons of fear, intimidated personality, or material risk?) cooperates by submitting. Developing and maintaining ‘power over’ is accomplished by manipulation, (deceit, withholding information, threats, or actual abuse – which can be physical, emotional, neglect or shunning, … these and more are techniques, strategies, to gain or maintain ‘power-over’.)
(Note: co-dependent and manipulative behaviors are ‘everywhere’. Each of us is entangled to some extent in these all the time. We may often ‘switch roles’ in a relationship – during one kind of situation may have the ‘power’; in another may decide to yield power. In many cases these practices are not particularly harmful, especially if there is cordial ‘give and take’ in a relationship. The reason co-dependency and manipulation are identified as serious relationship and power issues is that deep harm is also possible. Abusive spouse, abusive parent, bullying, – these are situations where harm is great. Telling lies to create fear, and spreading false information to persuade the public a different nation is an immediate threat – that war is necessary – are examples of great harm from manipulation in larger community or society.)
My goal is to nudge greater awareness of manipulation and co-dependency so we can intelligently distinguish between ‘normal, no-problem’ and very real problem. Further – my goal is to step away from looking at close personal relationships and study manipulation and co-dependency as it’s embedded in our culture and politics.
Both manipulation and co-dependency occur with a fair amount of enabling. Enabling happens when we ‘pretend to not notice’, ‘make excuses’, choose ‘willful blindness‘, and otherwise decide to ignore harmful manipulation. If no one enabled manipulation or co-dependent behaviors, they could not happen.
When you read or think about co-dependency and manipulation, apply the understandings to larger ‘tribal’ groups such as families, social sets, a group who work together.
(1) These are ‘communities’ and will nearly always have ‘power structures’. Do some individuals have more ‘automatic power’ (a boss at work, for instance)? How does this individual ‘handle’ the power? Is the person open to new ideas and possible criticism? Can those with less ‘assigned power’ comfortably take concerns to the person with greater power? Is there competition to gain power among the group? Are there ‘behind the scenes’ efforts to get certain outcomes? Are people generally direct and honest when discussion group concerns? If there are some situations that are manipulative – who is letting this happen (who is using co-dependent behaviors) – and why (there’s likely to be a felt ‘power imbalance’). How much enabling is going on – how much are people ignoring a problem?
The remedy in ‘tribes’ or communities where power-imbalance is significant usually involves changes in communication styles and habits to create an atmosphere where everyone feels free to speak. There are a range of ‘processes’ the group can use to make the change. These are not easy to do unless almost everyone in the group agrees to learn more about direct and helpful communication. The processes are along the lines of what is done in conflict resolution and consensus meetings – both of these are structured to ‘equalize’ power in a conversation or in problem solving activities.
(2) Move on to notice even larger communities – town and village ‘politics’ and ‘power’ holders vs those with less power. You’ll find the same patterns of behaviors and motivations, and power structures, in regional and state politics.
Don’t take too long before you shift the lens to (3) examine national politics and power structure. To the extent you can learn from news and other sources, you’ll find the same patterns of motivations and behaviors at national levels of government (these are also present in large corporate structures.)
By the way – media – at every level from city to national and global ‘groups and organizations’ is also a ‘power player’ – and has its own ‘power structures’ within each news organization! These behaviors and motivations are truly everywhere!
Consider co-dependency and manipulation to at work within ALL institutionalized structures – banks, corporations, government offices – all of them! How do these support co-dependency and manipulation of those who run them, work for them, and are served by them, including the public at large – consumers and voters? How many are involved in ‘enabling’ these practices even though they may have power to reveal or challenge?
Realizing that manipulations, co-dependency, and enabling in ‘power issues’ are in society at every level – from family to mega-institutions – makes the point that our society itself is importantly ‘dysfunctional’. We dream and scheme – we ‘shave the truth’ – we hold back facts as means to have power, we pretend real injustices and imbalances don’t exist or ‘don’t matter’, (willful blindness).
While examining levels of social, economic, and political and activity, (community from small to large) keep in mind these structures are collections of individuals. Keep in mind the behaviors in List #1, and the drivers in List#2. Keep in mind individual role in overall group dynamics.
Manipulation, Straight-talk, Tribalism, Forgiveness, Co-dependency, Enabling .. spring from … and lead to … Hopes, dreams, wishfulness, greed, insecurity, cleverness, real dependency situations, real need, even compassion and honesty. There’s a continuous dynamic of interactions among people – actions to reactions to actions to reactions – on and on.
So what can we do? (“We’re only human”, right?)
Extract the best of the two lists of human attributes: straight-talk, forgiveness, dreams, cleverness, compassion, honesty. Each has power to support individual and group thriving when run through a clear-thinking mind.
To contribute to – and to experience ‘the best potential’ of individuals, groups, or societies – at any level from personal to national, even global – clear thinking is key.
- Clear-thinking allows straight talk.
- Clear-thinking allows honesty.
- Clear-thinking allows us to recognize we do actually ‘need one another. ‘Tribe Human’ has genuine inter-dependency. This is why common weal is mentioned by thinkers throughout history. (Clear thinking that recognizes ‘common weal, interdependency of ALL life, will make earth stewardship seem a ‘no-brainer’.)
- Clear thinking recognizes genuine need when it exists, and, with compassion, leads to a response (responsibility) to that need, Interdependency makes any need a common weal interest.
- Clear-thinking allows forgiveness (which by the way means ‘overlooking’) but not excuse making. Making excuses for specific manipulative ‘power over’ behaviors of ourselves or those on whom we feel dependent, (parents, lovers, bosses – and, if we’re running for office, our supporters, or preferred candidates), is ‘co-dependent’, ‘enabling’ behavior of an unhelpful type. It helps maintain and sustain ‘power-over’.
- Clear-thinking lets us perceive that fear, insecurity, and greed lead to practices of manipulation for the sake of “power over”; and clear thinking ‘tells us’ that we need to address causes of ‘fear’, ‘insecurity’ and attend to greed. Or – when manipulation comes someone of lesser power, it is may be for the sake of ‘power balancing’ – but it is still deceitful. Clear thinking lets us find and promote more direct and honest ways to deal with power imbalance. (A culturally recognized ‘manipulation to balance power’ is found when we are ‘amused’ that women might use ‘indirect cleverness’ to ‘manage’ relationships with male partners: “Oh, I don’t let on to my husband but if I do …. I can get him to …. “. If the partnership is of two people more mature, aware of self and other, and supportive, such subterfuge would not be needed.)
- Clear-thinking shows us that insecurity and anxiety are often rational responses to real needs not met. Real needs for optimal development and experience require access to resources that allow thriving. These needs are shelter, quality food/water, education that supports development of talent and interest, and opportunity to experience satisfaction through community participation. Using clear thinking – honest, without deceit of self or other – we can develop policy that relieves insecurity caused by real needs not met.
- Clear thinking allows us to perceive “power-over” for what it is at every level, from simplest grouping to global: it is non-cooperative behavior that denies responsibility of community, earth, and life (stewardship).
- Clear-thinking gives us insight that ‘co-dependent’ behavior in public and economic relationships is encouraged, made stronger, by manipulation of self, and of other. We can shift to communication practices that ensure each has voice; we can learn to ‘call out’ manipulative behavior when we see it.
- Clear-thinking lets us discover that self-manipulation in public and economic relationship is based in individual unhelpful belief systems – and that at group and societal levels – if such beliefs are shared by most of a group or society – these become”consensus reality”. Consensus reality based on a widely held mistaken belief can prevent clear thinking. A example is a widely held mistaken belief in “the unexplainable mystery of human ignorance and cruelty.” (It’s always been this way and we can’t change it.”) Human ignorance and cruelty can be explained. It’s nearly always rooted in ‘power-issues’, sometimes these are rooted in infancy when survival depended on developing ‘coping strategies’.
- Clear-thinking allows us to recognize ‘consensus reality’ and its belief systems are an outgrowth of systemic manipulation. Systemic manipulation due to mistakes in ‘consensus reality’ and ‘power over’ practices exists in all advertising, all political campaigning, all policy decisions. Media supports this (more co-dependency at work) by exaggeration – use of “emotional trigger” vocabulary; by ‘slant’ from ‘blind consensus reality thinking’ or by intent to manipulate; and by omission or details that might challenge co-dependent relationship with media owners or advertisers. One reason our dysfunctional condition of manipulation, co-dependency, and enabling is systemic is that humanity had no reliable clues to why we behave this way until ‘psychology’ began to be developed as a systematic study. And the field of psychology only reached ‘useful maturity’ late in the 20th Century!)
- Clear-thinking lets us realize – To the extent we accept advertising, campaigning, political and policy explanations as “reliable”, with no critical examination, we enable the manipulation.)
- Clear-thinking lets us appreciate that every time one of us allows manipulation to go unchallenged, we become enablers. We are ‘part of the problem’. (This does not mean challenging is easy! It is often, as in any co-dependent relationship, fraught with risks! But – if we want to correct our path – many more of us will need to ‘step up to the plate’. Each of us individually needs to find ways and courage to ask questions, challenge, and ‘call out’ “power-over” manipulative behaviors – or to actively support those who do.)
- Clear-thinking allows perception of co-dependent behaviors and of manipulation – while honesty applied with clear-thinking leads back to straight talk.
- Straight talk (from everyone in a conversation) leads to wider agreement on helpful corrective action.
Once we’re clear, and talking straight among ourselves and to those who need to hear us, we can use intelligence in stewardship of earth and life. While thinking clearly we can practice appropriate justice that seeks to transform if possible, or compassionately isolate if not (see Justice: Circle, Restorative, Transformative page, this blog). Thinking clearly, we can use cleverness to bring the best of our dreams into reality instead of using it to ‘outfox’ others. We begin, at last, to develop “Tribe Human” – a tribe that benefits from individual unique gift, encourages and welcomes full participation and benefit by everyone.
We can’t practice the clear thinking needed unless we first perceive our own deceptions.
It’s my opinion we would not have psychology as a tool if it were not part of an unfolding. We have “developed” psychology, taken it to its present level of “revelation”, out of our ‘cleverness’, our ‘dream to explain ourselves to ourselves. We’ve taken psychology far enough to make it every bit as useful, as a ‘best tool for our time’, as plumbing, electricity, and instant world-wide communication!
We’re perched on a cusp.
We’re stumped at a fork in the road and argue among ourselves on the better path.
We sit around the kitchen table, or on the patio, smelling that awful stench coming from the basement, but don’t want to go see what’s causing it.
Instead, we blame the people we allowed to lead. We insist it is only “they” who need to be spoken to in straight talk. (By the way, this writer agrees – “They” DO need to hear us speak straight talk!) Just as soon as we’re clear-thinking enough to do so!
Blaming ‘them’ for not leading us well is a line of thought that makes us victims. Victim thinking takes us back to co-dependent thinking, which leads to fear of being manipulated, so we manipulate “back”, including self-deception about all the manipulation, …, and the same wheel continues to spin.
It’s our choice.
My Best! –MaggieAnn