Impulse to Manipulate

This is going to be a somewhat ironic post.

I say that because I sometimes imagine that there is some parallel universe out there where I went into marketing. I love well done clever marketing and advertising and in many ways marketing travels in the same country as manipulation. There is a desired outcome, and there are a number of ways to get there.

I think that in the best of circumstances advertisement identifies a need and works to convince you that their product or service will satisfy that need. Somewhat less honorably, you will have marketing campaigns that center on creating a need, and following through by convincing  you that their product will satisfy it. In a third scenario, and there are probably many more, advertisers will identify a weakness in the consumer that can be exploited for their gain.

The way that a product is advertised tells us a lot about the way that that the marketer feels about both the product and the consumer. The more that you let manipulative techniques creep into your advertising, the weaker your product appears.

I had a brother ask me a couple weeks ago about the reason that I don’t attend a church anymore. The first reason off my tongue, and if you have read here long enough you know that there is more than one, was how much manipulation I see in the church. Whether it be manufactured emotion, guilt, or shame, the amount of manipulation that I saw while going from one church to another was deeply discouraging.


What does it say about how the hearts of believers are perceived we feel we need to whip them into a frenzy to bring about worship? What does it say about the Spirit if we have to guilt and shame people into doing “God’s will”? What does it say about our view of God, if we don’t feel like we can let him out of his cage, and show himself to be loveable?

It wasn’t actually my intent to jump on the church in this post. This post actually started when I admitted to myself that I have this impulse within my heart as well. When things don’t go my way, when I don’t get what I want, something rises up inside me and tells me how I can turn the situation to my advantage.

I hate listening to that voice. Listening to that voice imposes violence on our relationships, it degrades both the speaker and the listener. It breeds distrust and cynicism. I would put that voice to death. I trust that God is doing just that. In the meantime, I will endeavor to turn a deaf ear to that voice.

I don’t want to play puppeteer to anyone in my life, as I have never particularly enjoyed having my own strings yanked on. I value my relationships and my God enough to not want to subject either of them to my own underhanded marketing.

I’m sure we have all experienced the receiving end of this type of behavior, I’m curious what effect it has had on different relationships. Do you also recognize this impulse within yourself? How do you fend it off?


23 thoughts on “Impulse to Manipulate

  1. Yes! The manipulation is so degrading and makes me doubt that there is really any relationship at all. I can’t remember a single experience in “church” where I felt that the so-called leaders cared about me in terms of my walk with Christ. It always seemed more like whether I was holding up the “brand” of the church or something.

  2. My experience within the institution has left me with a deep sensitivity towards control and manipulation (both in myself and in others). I know what it is like to discover that your worth is measured only in your willingness to submit and comply, and I would rather lose relationship than pay that price again, or ask it of others. It can be hard to grasp, but the truth is that unless we are free to choose, there isn’t much relationship anyway 😦

  3. This is one of those real “Pandora’s box” subjects, there are many ways it could go, and many ways it could go wrong…….

    Our church tried a program that was handed down by the synod, it was a 3-month series of sermons, activities, etc., entitiled “Free and Joyous response.” The goal was to increase giving and service. By the time the 3rd week came around, the Sunday morning crowd was getting smaller, as the guilt level was increasing . The Pastor abandoned the program at this point, thankfully. Myself, I could not believe that those who wrote the program had the audacity to use that title……

    On a more personal level, I struggle with the thought of manpulation in parenting. Because, at least on some level, parenting requires some measure of manipulation – and I even hate seeing that sentence written down. We are called to bend and shape our children, and yet still allow for free will. And I find this balancing act requires a lot of prayer, not just for wisdom in how to do it, but also to identify and relinquish the areas where I am prone to control instead of love.

    • I think that a lot of parental manipulation can potentially be filtered out being a good example of making good choices and giving kids good choices when they are still young enough that you can control what their options are. I’m sure I am hugely over simplifying things… and have the benefit of having little enough experience to say something that arrogant.

  4. Actually, you’re right – and this is part of the struggle of balance , How to filter out the manipulation thing without ending up just being permissive. Also , figuring out what exactly constitutes manipulation, and what is necessary guidance.
    There is a whole lot to be said for the modeling aspect, and I think so many parents don’t realize that. Kids pick up on our underlying attitudes , way more than we realize.
    I think you avoided sounding arrogant, no worries. But I will also say that experience is quite the teacher.

    • A couple of things that we have gotten a kick out of recently. We read our 19 month old daughter a story from her children’s Bible each night, and now the very first thing she asks for when she wakes up is her Bible. This past week we were sitting down for lunch, waiting for my wife, and my daughter actually prompted me to pray… she’s also been doing some unprompted amening for a couple months now.

      It makes me smile that she has picked those things up just from being around us.

  5. That’s awesome, I love hearing those things. It’s heartening that she asks for it to start her day. Our youngest is very good about remembering to pray for meals, etc….
    I love the age between 1 and 2, it’s a fun age. I have an 18 yr old who has moved out, a 13 yr old, and a 5 year old. Definitely getting experience across the board with our crew.
    We were actually a little sad when our youngest “outgrew” her Children’s Bible (her words, not ours) and now reads a more grown-up version. She’s in far too much of a hurry…..

    • We are going through a children’s bible now that I am less fond of but I absolutely loved reading her the Jesus Storybook Bible.

      It is actually wild to see how much she has picked up. Her fine motor functions and verbal skills are finally starting to catch up with her knowledge and she is able to express all of these things that I had no idea that she had picked up.

      Watching a little one grow up is a highly satisfying pastime. 🙂

  6. “Watching a little one grow up is a highly satisfying pastime”

    Agreed, and I can hardly think of anything more so. It is a fabulous thing to be a part of. Enjoy! 🙂

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