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  • Kim Moodey

Sensible Manipulation and the Margay

It was a cooing from perhaps a dove or a rock pigeon.  It was neither.  There was something outside of my window. 

Crinkling its voice to sound peaceful; to sound birdlike.  It was nearly 10pm and so it was dark.  I looked out my window to see what was making the somewhat loud and intriguing sounds but I saw nothing.  As I peered out my window, the sound stopped and then continued.  It was a cat.  I never saw the cat but I'm sure that's what it was, hunting something in the night, and as I stepped out for a walk shortly after I couldn't help but ponder the frequency in which mammals utilize manipulation in order to get what they want.  How often do we, as people, manipulate others throughout our day and why?

But first, let's talk about cats.  Whether the sound outside my window was a cat or not, it still got me thinking about the high level of intelligence that cats have while hunting their prey.  I've personally observed cats imitating the sound of their prey and have been fascinated by the cunningly intelligent ways in which  felines hunt their prey.  Surely vocal mimicry exists within the animal kingdom.   An article written by Christine Dell'Amore published on the National Geographic website specifically discusses how the Margay feline mimics monkey calls.  In 2005, a group of scientists in the Amazon Rainforest near Brazil heard the Margay imitate the calls of a baby Peid Tamarin monkey.  Since then, the Wildlife Conservation Society has announced that the Margay does, in fact, mimic monkey calls to lure them as prey.  But this vocal mimicry isn't used only by Margay.  If we observe nature, open our eyes to the species in which we cohabitate, we'll observe this hunting tactic more prevalently then expected.  I've seen a crow imitate it's prey before - they're so sneaky.  But don't we all just manipulate each other in order to get what we want?

When we do something in order to make someone else have specific feelings, isn't that manipulation?  The proper definition of manipulation, according to Merriam Webster is "To control or play upon by artful, unfair or insidious means especially to one's own advantage."  Come on, be honest with yourself.  How often do you manipulate situations and people throughout your day?  For myself, if I really break it down, I believe it to be much more than I'd like to admit.  But why is it hard for us to admit to this?  To me, it seems like the word to manipulate has a negative connotation.  I suspect most of us hear the word 'to manipulate' and we think about it meaning insidiousness and to behave in ways that provide advantage only to the person committing those actions - so we perceive manipulation as a selfish action.  But it's difficult to live our lives, as humans, as well as other species on this planet, without manipulation from time to time.

If we manipulate, are we being honest?  If we manipulate situations and other people for our benefit, are we being bad?  Let's say you're eating at a restaurant and you want to be kind to the wait staff so that they don't have one of the cooks spit in your food.  To act kindly, in this situation, in order to prohibit one of the cooks spitting in your food is a manipulative tactic.  You're altering someone else's behavior for your benefit.  Is this a bad thing?  Perhaps where the difficulty in comprehending this philosophy is the lack of genuine kindness.  We tell ourselves that we want to be kind out of the goodness of our heart - and yes, we definitely should be - but to be kind to someone so that they don't do something harmful to us behind our back is instinctual behavior.  Isn't it?

The other day, I took a little stroll down Instagram lane.  Scrolling through the feed on my search page button, I noticed so many pictures of people's faces and of people posing in various shapes for the camera.  I'm well aware that this sort of thing floods instagram but intrigue began brewing in my bones.

::Robot voice - Human behavior observation turned on::

As I kept scrolling I saw a picture of a woman sitting on her sofa, her body twisted slightly, her head pointing to the sky and little to no smile.  First thought, "What could this post possibly be about?" I clicked on it and the caption basically read something about her love for nature, how she enjoys gardening and how she used to always love being in the dirt as a kid.  "Wait a minute..." my second thought said.  What does this picture have to do with nature and gardening?  It's a picture of her sitting on the couch!  So then I went to her actual instagram account and found that she has over 1.4M followers.  My third and final thought "Meh good for her."  I tucked this experience into the cap of my fictitious hat and trusted that these thoughts would be revisited again soon. 

Two days later, I woke up early to write.  The sky was a deep, dark blue as the sun was just starting to grace its presence over the landscape of palm trees and power lines.  I sat on the stoop of my side patio and listened to the birds sing and chirp.  Their silhouettes dancing on the telephone poles and tree branches.  It was so calm.  So beautiful - the waking world coming alive for another day.  I thought of that woman I saw on Instagram and the caption of her post.  It just randomly popped in my head.  She too loves nature.  Hmm, she perhaps would love this moment then too.

So in a way - every little thing we do within our lives is a form of manipulation to some extent.  Manipulation is a factor within the act of inauthenticity.  Let's break down Instagram Woman's behavior for a second.  She is considered pretty to Western American culture.  She is therefore capitalizing on this.  She has built a business promoting herself as the product.  She seems to be very successful with this as she has over 1.4M followers which means she's probably able to support herself enough with this work alone.  The picture of her face appeases her audience and her caption ensures the world that she has substance.  Got it.  But this isn't who she is.  This isn't a real version of her true-ness at all.  This is the paper layer that covers the surface of the onion.  This is her mask, her facade, her manipulated version of herself for society.  And guess what - she's not the only person who does this.  We all do this.  Before working from home for an extended period of time, I dressed in a specific way for working in an office every day.  I speak in a certain way when I'm presenting something in a meeting.  I'm not my truest self in a work situation.  I'm just not.  You can't be.  When we work - we wear a hat.  We assume that role that we've been given.  It's a version of us but it's not us entirely.  Speaking a certain way, dressing a certain way - allows for us to receive promotions, to be respected, to gain followers.  But this is us manipulating other's thoughts of who we are; there is a layer of inauthenticity within these actions.  To manipulate is a learned behavior in which multiple species capitalize.  If used to survive - is there anything wrong with this?

To manipulate is not instinct, it is a learned behavior but to survive is instinct.  Wild animals using voice mimicry to lure prey is a cleverly learned hunting tactic that allows for their survival.  Humans understand conformities so that they can fit in within their work culture and society - that is also a form of survival.  These types of manipulation, I believe, are acceptable.  

What is the symbiotic relationship between authenticity and manipulative behavior?  To be inauthentic towards others is to build inadequate and shallow relationships.  To be inauthentic to oneself builds a confusing and less meaningful life.  We, as humans, need to survive but we need to also understand the power of our mind.  We can survive on a higher comprehensible level than other mammals - we can think and act more compassionately which then eradicates, or at least minimizes, the necessity of manipulation.  A healthy symbiotic relationship with authenticity and manipulation is to have understanding towards the differentiation between the intent of insidiousness and artful tactics.  Manipulation is described as either to be insidious or artful.  Manipulation can be with good intention or not.  We can manipulate in a positive way that doesn't harm others - perhaps can benefit others while also benefiting ourselves and we can manipulate in a negative way that can harm others leaving ourselves the only beneficiary within the situation.  These actions are for us to decide.  To fully understand the difference between how these two different forms of manipulation feels is our responsibility as a higher intelligent mammal.   From this, we can simultaneously live within our best version while honoring others with our intentions.  It's our responsibility in understanding why we are manipulating.  It is our responsibility that when we do manipulate a person it is done in a way that negates harm towards the other for they are not our prey.

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