Sure, suggesting that everybody is a selfish hypocritical manipulator may seem like a pretty negative accusation, but once you look at each of the terms in detail, you may see how it starts to make sense. The point of this section is to expand a sense of self-knowledge or self-awareness through an exercise in relativity. As ambitious as the intention may seem, the very least this section aims to do is to develop an understanding of the subjectivity of language. You may like to see it as a means to manage accusations of being selfish, hypocrytical or manipulative with enough distance to avoid taking it personally, or simply a verbal stretching exercise.
I may be going out on a limb here by saying that every correctly functioning human being is selfish (not to be confused with self-centered), and that our actions are guided by our selfishness. Being selfish, in its most fundamental form, is acting in order to increase one’s own well-being – doing things so that we feel good… or better… or even sometimes just “not so bad”.
“Yes”, you may say, “but, sometimes we do something selfless, or altruistic, or even masochistic, so that other people feel good and we don’t think about ourselves, right?” Well, yes, we can do something altruistic etc., and in doing it, does it make us feel good, or better, or not so bad about ourselves on some level?
Let’s take the example of someone who has devoted their lives to helping those in difficulty or need. Their seemingly selfless actions have a clear impact on their own sense of well-being, and if they hadn’t tapped into the intrinsic well-being created by helping others to feel more comfortable, then they wouldn’t continue their actions. At the very least, they would feel worse if they did nothing to help, and thus avoid feeling this pain by helping those in difficulty or need. Thankfully there are many people who really get pleasure out of seeing others happy or better off.
Attacker: “You’re so selfish!”
Aikidoist: “[…] There’s definitely some truth in that. What would make you feel better?”
“And what about masochists?” Well the principle remains the same; the masochist actually derives pleasure and gratification from feeling physical suffering, so again, they are having pain inflicted on them with the belief that it increases their level of well-being. All in all, we are naturally selfish beings that just differentiate in our strategies to feel good, or better… or not so bad!
Maybe it’s just a question of perspective. If you preach a certain lifestyle or overtly adhere to a practice that, in reality, you don’t systematically follow, you may very well be in the line of fire for someone to accuse you of hypocrisy.
Samuel Johnson wrote: “Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.”
In summary, if I actively encourage others to eat healthily, I should not be considered a hypocrite for eating junk food, as long as I don’t claim to be someone who has successfully implemented a balanced diet. Sure, but as the distinguished poet highlights, it is relatively common for the opposite to happen.
Furthermore, if we take a little time to look at what we accuse or criticize others for, we so often find that it is either actions that we do or have done ourselves at some point. Our negativity in relation to the matter at hand generally underlines something that is unresolved within our psyche. This means that if I feel the need to accuse or criticize you for your selfishness or for your lateness, etc., then it may well be something for which I haven’t yet found a satisfying system or explanation myself, thus causing an imbalance in my psyche and resulting in my aggressiveness.
Conversely, if I consciously believe that my actions could be perceived as selfish or hypocritical in a certain context, and feel comfortable about that, then I will not feel the need to accuse or criticize others of these characteristics, nor would I feel insulted by such an accusation.
Attacker: “You’re such a hypocrite!”
Aikidoist: “[…] I can see why you might say that.”
“There is only one way to avoid criticism,” explained Aristotle, “do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.” With the constantly changing circumstances that life presents us, maybe the only way one can avoid being called a hypocrite is by never expressing a point of view or a belief. It might work in theory, but does seem like a rather drastic way to avoid accusations of incongruous actions!
Manipulation has a bad name. The original signification of “to manipulate” was to take fully in one’s hand or to handle skillfully. Its most simple definition is “guidance”. Are your verbal muscles starting to feel the stretch? Indeed, when faced with an attack, the martial aikido practitioner may physically guide or manipulate the attacker to a point of destabilization and then return them to stability, and the Verbal Aikidoist does so with words.
So if you don’t think you’re capable of manipulating, think of the last time you asked someone for a favor, negotiated a price, asked someone to make an exception, got someone to call you back, made someone laugh, succeeded in getting someone to dance with you… the list goes on indefinitely, because the only way you can avoid ‘manipulating’ or guiding another human being is by leaving them completely alone, and not interacting with them in any way. This would require you to become a hermit and, if that is your choice, you really have no need for this book!
In short, as soon as two human beings enter into contact, there is guidance present in some form or other. In most healthy relationships the guidance alternates, but it is unrealistic to think that you can interact with others without either attempting to guide or letting yourself be guided somewhat.
Why then has the word ‘manipulation’ come to be portrayed and interpreted so negatively? Well, one way of seeing it is that it’s like football supporters. There really are so many well-intentioned football supporters, but it’s the ones with aggressive intentions and behavior that give it a bad name. The type of manipulation that involves concealing aggressive intentions, taking advantage of others vulnerabilities, and a lack of concern for another’s well-being, is the type of guidance that corresponds to the hooligan among the manipulators. This abuse of manipulation is what has given the word an understandably negative connotation.
Attacker: “You’re such a manipulator!”
Aikidoist: “[…] What do you believe I’m trying to manipulate you towards?”
The intention behind your guidance is key. If your guidance is based on Ai-ki, that is to say, if the motivation for your actions is to harmonize a conflictual situation, then guiding others towards a peaceful outcome, will invariably be seen as praiseworthy rather than dishonorable, even though it is clearly a type of manipulation. We can all manipulate and we all start from a very young age to learn how. In Verbal Aikido, we are clear about the intention to manipulate a situation towards a positive or balanced outcome for all involved.
To summarize, if in most of your interactions you strive to influence others towards a peaceful and positive outcome because it makes you feel good, then you can very well be called a selfish (because you’re doing it so that you feel good) hypocritical (because you’re not always able to do it) manipulator (because you intend to guide others towards what you want). You may need to come to terms with this before you get any deeper into the practice!
It may all just be a question of perspective, relativity and intention, but verbally stretching words helps us explore the non-binary quality of almost any seemingly negative accusation you can imagine. This relativity, and the distance it empowers us to have, takes the bang out of many attacks and enables us to return to our Inner Smile with increased flexibilty.
See also :
Positive verbal stretching – Can we protect ourselves through/with/thanks to empathy?