The Difference Between Persuasion and Manipulation

The difference between persuasion and manipulation is a strong point of debate is many social circles. Philosophers and psychologist love to disagree on the dynamics of both concepts, and they should; these concepts are complex and extensive. I have spent countless hours looking for that substantial difference that can, as people say, put a point on it.

The popular contention is that one is positive, and the other one is negative in contrast. My friend Maddox Vargas argues in Book 1 of The 8-13 Project that the difference is in the semantics and the intentions outlined by the words.

The reason you don’t hear about someone manipulating someone else into becoming a better person is that words are social and cultural contracts that bind us to very limited meanings.”

I find Maddox’s analysis of this difference compelling, and accurate; I share in the understanding that words and their definitions have power over our perception of reality. Language is, after all, that only tool we have to describe the world as we understand it – it is the only way we have to access other minds.

Inherent in this explanation of the difference between manipulation and persuasion is the idea of intention – the principal difference is in the love that may or may not operate in the hearts of the people attempting to move you or control you.

Like those philosophers and psychologists pondering the complexities of human behaviour, I also have much to say on the subject. Nevertheless, I leave you with Maddox’s prescriptions for now, which elegantly illustrate how the word itself is used to manipulate how you perceive its meaning, and therefore, how you feel about it.

From now on, I want you to pay attention to the language used as Peyton transcribes my words into sentences you can make sense of. I want you to focus on the meaning and the semantics of the terms employed here because we are deliberate in that practice – almost as careful as the legal system is in using similar words to confuse the truth.

Take the word manipulation as an example of what I want you to see. How do you define this elegant term? I’m sure it elicits a sense of being used or of psychological control exerted over a person without their consent and with negative consequences.

After all, we often hear about the undesirable aspects of [people] being in manipulative relationships, and we always listen to others admonishing people who are perceived as being manipulative of others. But the word has a different meaning in its formal version; it denotes the act of manipulating or using something in a skilful matter. The reason for your misapprehensions about this noun is purely cultural, you have been told by those who used it before you that it suggests a sort of unscrupulous action or behaviour against others.

Geneticists manipulate animal and plant genomes to make better versions of them, often in search for the cure for horrible diseases. Artists manipulate their brushes to paint beautiful masterpieces that inspire profound enjoyment in those that see them.

The reason you don’t hear about someone manipulating someone else into becoming a better person is that words are social and cultural contracts that bind us to very limited meanings. They are meanings that serve to support the zeitgeist and to manipulate you (if you use the popular meaning of the word) into accepting a collective identity and worldview that you did not choose. And their limits are intended, furthermore, to minimise your access to reality – your access to truth.”

Maddox Vargas, The 8-13 Project, Book 1 revised

Thank you for reading, I will have more on this soon.

— Peyton Dracco

Published by Peyton J. Dracco

Author & entrepreneur

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