“There is no such thing as a good influence. To influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him”. (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)
What do you think about Oscar Wilde ́s words from The Picture of Dorian Gray? That good influence does not exist, since the purpose of influence is to transfer one person’s feelings and ideas to another person, thus affecting the other person’s behavior?
One thing is for sure: Oscar Wilde ́s words include a lot of truth. With our feelings, thoughts, knowledge and actions we all do have more or less influence on people around us. The line between influence and manipulation, however, is often quite subtle. And the difference between influence and manipulation is merely that influence is often regarded as being something positive, while manipulation, a term originating from the Latin word manus (hand), means processing, and very often has a negative meaning while it refers to misleading, or forgery of evidence. Manipulation can also refer to concrete handling of something, e.g. the manipulation of stock markets. There are definitely many kinds of manipulation, such as magician card tricks. In this post, however, I refer to psychological manipulation, which actively aims at having an effect on someone ́s, or something ́s, behavior and thoughts.
Influence, on the other hand, is the power of affecting, controlling or manipulating someone, or something; the ability of triggering change in the development of fluctuation in things, including thoughts, or decisions. Thus, manipulation can be regarded as the negative version of influence, although even influence itself can be regarded as less positive.
Influence can be actual, bad, beneficial, big, cultural, economic, good, harmful, heavy, huge, important, intellectual, mental, military, moral, negative, personal, positive, potential, primary, significant, social…and much more.
Influence and manipulation are constant energies in our societies, and environments, starting from a crying baby’s cradle trying to manipulate (or influence?) its parents towards an action. Hence, the most primary ways of manipulation and influence can be observed in a child’s world. At least one could think so. However, very primitive influencing and manipulation techniques exist in all age groups, depending upon many different factors, such as an individual ́s learned patterns, defense mechanisms, sense of self, morals, and ethics. An individual usually behaves in a way that he/she thinks is correct, without perhaps knowing or understanding better. Thus, bad influence and bad manipulation, unfortunately, together with primitive behavior, equally exists amongst all age groups.
How can we learn to identify different ways of manipulation, and influence? And how can we cope with these? How can we make sure not to be the one ́s negatively influencing, or manipulating other people, organizations, whole societies, or e.g. the economy?
There are no simple responses to these questions. Since manipulation, and influence, both occur on a common level in our societies, it can often be difficult to take notice when someone, or something, is influencing or manipulating you. Very often people influence or manipulate us without even noticing it themselves. Therefore, both influence and manipulation can happen somewhat by mistake.
A good guide for protecting yourself against both influence, and manipulation, is to listen to your intuition, and feelings. Another important thing is to stay grounded, and centered – again, listening to your intuition and your feelings rather than being too much affected by external sources or distractions. It is of course possible to learn these through experience, which can sometimes be a tough life lesson, especially if you are someone who is easily influenced or manipulated. There is much literature available upon influence and manipulation, the different types of both, and how to respond to either external influence or manipulation.
Leading by example and being a positive role model is a way of making sure that you are not the one with the negative influence (or manipulation). Changing other people is impossible. Therefore, if we wish to trigger positive change, and be role models, we need to work on ourselves, on our behavior, our actions, our personal wisdom, and on our growth as responsible individuals in our societies.
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours”. (Dr. Wayne W. Dyer)