The Use of Language to Manipulate People

We have encountered day in day out language-using manipulators in practically all areas/sectors of life. In one particular instance, we regularly hear them over the radio and see them on TV. We read their messages on the pages of dailies and magazines, even in posters that line-up walls of public places. The Internet is full of websites that banner the captivating ideas of these thought influencers. The term we use to specifically refer to their kind of game is advertisement. This is the basic intent of an advertisement: To attract, fascinate and ultimately persuade people to dig into their pockets for the amount needed to satisfy the desire that has so far been created in their minds by the power of advertisement. This is manipulation at its most subtle and sophisticated refinement.

Nowadays, with the advancement of cybertechnology, professional advertisers have literally at the tip of their fingers all conceivable tools to come up with the best presentations of product promotion in all forms of the available media. Striking logos, snappy slogans, attention-grabbing illustrations, mellifluous jingles, eye-catching photos, among others, conspire altogether to create a powerful advertising stunt, so powerful that it can knock out analysis and reason in an instant. Using the classic Aristotelian categories of persuasion modes or artistic proofs, this is a case of how pathos (appeal to emotion) exerts a significantly tremendous edge over logos (appeal to reason) and ethos (appeal to a person’s credibility and ethical character). Manipulation of this type is so easily effected because its operators have already mastered the art of handling the general tendency of people to succumb to what their “hearts” dictate at the expense of what their “heads” would reasonably tell them.

This is humanity at its most prevalent and persistent configuration: a creature of emotions. And the modern–as well as post-modern–commercial sphere has taken advantage of this seemingly perennial reality to its extremest point, full steam ahead, so to speak. Within the warp and woof of the human fabric, the pathos reigns supreme and is deaf to the call of logos most of the time. It even has the forceful motion of a whirlwind to bypass and ignore the wisdom of the purveyors of ethos. The pathos is, therefore, the central arena where the ebb and flow of manipulative undertakings function with clockwork efficiency.

But there is nothing new in this consideration. As an emotional being, humanity has always been the subject of manipulation since time immemorial, i.e., long before the age of advertising. Well concatenated words that constitute a delightful message can instantly–i.e., spontaneously–capture the heart of an individual person. The head equipped with its reasoning power has to get through a more tedious process of coming up with a clear-cut and rational/reasonable decision on whether to accept or reject something presented before it. Besides, the individual who is supposed to be at the disposal of both heart and head has a much easier predisposition to utilize the former and set aside the latter. As has been observed time and again, it is the heart that easily gives in–even caves in–to the pleasing lines articulated by an apparent persuader like an irresistible confectionery offered to a child by someone who wants to win her/his friendship.

Friendship is basically a matter of the heart and could breed manipulation on the wrong side of its broad layout. It starts with a proposition along the line of amity that in many cases gets deeper so that it could even reach a high degree of intimate connection. And once the target has already been taken over, that’s the point where manipulation sets in. A well-stringed set of pleasurable words can easily disarm and capture the emotional framework of an individual and put her/him in a situation of non-resistance. Again, this is nothing new to us even in a large-scale scenario wherein the power of a minister’s preaching becomes a manipulative tool to gather together unquestioning believers in the context of a religious assembly. This is not advertising but all its components run parallel to its commercial counterpart.

Many religious assemblies–whether you call them “fellowships” or “churches”–in the present modern dispensation have gained the notoriety of being called manipulators of the first order as their leaders have transformed themselves into multi-millionaire and billionaire high rollers who own luxurious mansions, travel by land in their chauffeur-driven limousines and visit their overseas congregations on their sophisticated private jets. And it is a known fact that all their riches are drawn from the ten percent of the incomes sweated out by their hardworking members. This shows how powerful manipulative words are as these preaching conmen put them all together in the language of a homily that they deliver from the pulpits of their churches’ sanctuaries “Sunday in Sunday out”.

But why specifically zero in on the religious preachers when these guys have their exact kins on the political arena? We see the same manipulative acts among politicians during the campaign period prior to an election. They all want to get elected and in their campaign sorties, it is not unusual to hear the manipulative promises of these political thugs whom the electorate tend to give in and give up their votes when election day comes. But it does not stop after the election. Those elected officials continue to use the power of political rhetoric to further deceive their constituents with more promises despite the fact that those they had promised during the campaign period haven’t even been implemented, much less fulfilled. However, in this particular scenario, what is so strange is the reality that the people who have been manipulated in the past continue to allow themselves to be manipulated more.

In the final analysis, it is with a certain degree of logical accuracy to conclude that the majority of the people in the world have the general tendency to let themselves get manipulated in whatever life condition they are located. This reality is sustained by the dictum that human beings are predominantly creatures of pathos, i.e., people who find it much easier to cope with life’s complexity by way of emotion rather than by way of reason. But on a more serious note, the more honest-to-goodness question is, Is that really the best way to cope with life’s reality with all its complexity and difficulties?

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 26 June 2019

Great Achievement

On a subjective plane, we could assume that all achievements from the point of view of the achiever are great. There is, therefore, no small-time achievement from the ordinary-language perspective. One’s achievement must be big-time for it is generally associated with her/his feeling of exhilaration. It could be viewed by an external observer as something that’s no big deal at all. But external observers are not the appropriate evaluators of a person’s feeling of elation that necessarily connects with her/his achievement. They don’t know–and it’s impossible for them to directly access–the concrete and exact circumstances surrounding such a delightful feeling exuded by one who celebrates her/his achievement.

We humans are creatures of ambition. We don’t only dream of better things in life; we want them to actually happen. We invest effort, time and resources to make a dream come true. We want an ideal to pass through a trajectory that leads to its realization. And once we find ourselves in that point of consummation, time stops as we savor the sweetness of success. Those who wish to join us in the celebration can only approximate the depth of what we feel. This is the essence of achievement which from our point of view is great and definitely big-deal.

But don’t get me wrong because even on the objective plane, we have witnessed great achievements. Being rewarded with a prize in a special field of interest is an unassailable achievement even if viewed from the vantage point of an external observer. We have witnessed so many instances of achievement particularly in the world of sports, arts and corporate careers, to name a few. It is indeed impossible for us to get into their emotional locus but we can at least approximate the obvious circumstances that have triggered the outward manifestation of their feeling of gladness over a great achievement.

We may be light years away from such kind of big-time achievements but we have our own regardless of how insignificant and commonplace they are from the point of view of an outside observer. Pride isn’t generally considered a value but we cannot help to be proud of our achievements. As congenial appreciators of a friend’s or a family member’s great achievement, we join her/him in feasting and celebration. In this sense, there’s nothing small-time or no-big-deal achievement in the case of friends and family.

Acknowledging true achievements is reflective of our appreciation of the indomitable human spirit. Our desire and struggle to win is embedded in the fiber of our humanity. It doesn’t, however, mean that we abhor losing and thus detest losers. Losing is a fact of life and none of us is immune from losing. The agony of defeat is within the sphere of our reality. But like the proverbial phoenix, the human spirit rises up from the ashes of defeat and plods on along the rocky and dusty path to continue the struggle until victory is finally achieved.

The magnitude of achievement overwhelms our being for we know that such victory has come through our own efforts and not anybody’s. We started off from scratch and our endeavour has paid off. We began the journey with a meager resource and now we have already reached unprecedented heights. We used to be an insignificant entity but is now reckoned as a major player in our chosen field. Nobody took notice of us at the initial phase of our undertaking but now, we are the focal point of those who have finally recognized that our role in society can no longer be ignored.

In the final analysis, an achiever is a winner. S/he has made use of the available resources, logistics and finances before her/him to their optimum magnitude and s/he has fully achieved now every detail of the master blueprint that has finally led her/him to her/his present state of affairs. Without humanity’s sense of achievement, this world could have been bland and boring, disgusting and dull. It is this very sense of achievement that gives essence to every effort we take to realize our aspirations and hopes.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 19 June 2019

Why Do People Perceive Ageing Differently?

There is a saying, “Age is just a number.” True, in a way. And in line with this is the notion that every person has her/his own way of viewing the issue of getting old. In other words, it takes a subjective attitude to consider oneself either old or young. In this sense, ageing is taken as a matter of feeling. One may already be in his 60s but still feels like s/he’s in her/his 30s or even younger. Whereas, another may still be in his 20s but s/he feels s/he’s already in her/his 40s or even older.

There is a generally accepted view that a highly developed sense of humour contributes significantly to delay a person’s ageing process. By and large, people endowed with this quality have the common tendency to take life’s problems in stride, i.e., with a very positive attitude as they don’t allow themselves to be overcome and dragged by the weight of the problems. Rather, they look at them as challenges to their wit and automatically transform them into something that if perfectly uttered will deliver a message reflective of the speakers’ appreciated sense of humour. And commenting on their physical aspect, we say, they are younger than their age.

Corollary to this is those who look at life’s problems like a burden heavier than the planet Earth itself. These are people who tend to believe that they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They may be young in chronological age but we could definitely say how their attitude has detrimentally affected their physical appearance. As we say it in simple terms, they are older than their age.

The different perceptions of ageing are precisely determined by our personal outlook in life. One’s generally negative outlook creates a personality that defeats openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity which are strong factors to make one feel great and fantastic. These, in reality, are strands that constitute the fabled “fountain of eternal youth” whose physical reality was sought after but never found in days gone by. So many explorers embarked on tortuous journeys just to get finally frustrated in their failure to physically locate this fountain which in reality is within us.

There’s no doubt that no one is getting any younger–unless s/he has the consanguineal strain of Peter Pan or Benjamin Button. We are all undergoing the physical process of deterioration though genetics contributes to its velocity as it runs more quickly in some while more slowly in others. In this connection, it has been widely observed that Asians get older more slowly than Caucasians in general. Whatever the case may be, the truth of the matter is, we are all getting old in terms of the number of years we have spent on the surface of planet Earth.

Finally, we get face to face with the reality of our mortality so that one day, the inevitability of death comes. To the more fortunate ones, it comes after living the fullness of a good life at an average old age of more or less 95 years. But of course, there are those who won’t be able to enjoy such longevity which is also a fact of life. Again, we could say that this matter is basically dependent on genetic factors and the manner how we have conducted our lives as well.

Considering the issue of how we’ve been conducting our lives in the present, there are moments when we couldn’t even feel we’re getting older. The more well off among us have even the tendency to enjoy the things that make them feel good unmindful of the consequences which in many instances are not contributory to leading a healthy life. The spirit of youth at its highest point of celebration aggressively controls the situation and pushes people to continually “paint the town red,” so to speak, as if there’s no tomorrow. Figuratively, we say, we stop the hands of time and enjoy the seeming eternity of youth.

But surely time will come when our feeling–which is, of course, subjective–will finally give in to the objectivity of the fact that we are actually getting old. And then we sit down exhausted in a corner with the eventual realization that age has taken its toll in our lives. At the end of the day, we are ultimately cognizant of the fact that we are not getting any younger anymore and this reality is irrevocable.

Yes, age doesn’t MATTER when we don’t MIND it. But MATTER does age, whether we MIND it or not.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 13 June 2019

On Envy

Envy, in general terms, is an individual person’s expression of dissatisfaction and acrimony triggered by another person’s possessions, qualities, success or advantages in life. It is basically a feeling caused by a belief that if someone else is in possession of a valuable property, either material or mental, s/he should also have the same. In a lot of ways, it is blown out of proportion by the persistent question, Why does s/he have it and I don’t when the truth of the matter is, I am much better than s/he in terms of intelligence or looks or financial capability? Having this egotistical idea in mind, one puts her/himself in a competitive position against someone who doesn’t even have an iota of hint that the former has already launched a “war” against him.

This whole tendency on the part of the envious person could start from the most fundamental stage of reaction to the most hostile–and thus destructive–posturing, i.e., to the point of getting into a “programmed” action of going around and brazenly spreading damaging lies about the other person against whom her/his envious feeling is directed. This is a “tactical” move grounded on the belief that pulling the other person down will give the envious attacker the vantage point to put the former at her/his level if not to actually have an upper hand over her/him. Because in many instances it is next to an impossibility for the envious one to instantly match the level of the other person whom s/he thinks is over and above her/him at a certain point in time, pulling her/him down is the quickest option.

The envious person is enslaved by the notion that if s/he cannot “lick” the envied person as yet, the better condition is to let the latter join him in her/his lower state of being. At the present moment, equality down below is the most feasible “plan of action” that will make the envious feel better and the envied humbled if not totally humiliated defending on the intensity of the peddled lie. Self-conceit creates such a lie based on an unrealistic estimation of one’s real status and capabilities in life. In this sense, what characterizes a person’s strong feeling of envy is an outright delusion. On this basis and at this point of the discussion, it may reasonably be said that the principal factor prompting envy is delusion: a bizarre idea or apprehension sustained by irrationality despite the fact that it goes against the fiber of reality.

On a lighter side, envy may not really be as destructive as we have previously seen especially in a situation where the envied matter is no big deal at all. It could be an affordable item possessed by the envied and may easily be obtained through the personal capability of the envious. However, there is still something negative lurking underneath the mentality of the latter if such an envious feeling has become a common tendency. In other words, if it is something considered and entertained normally and spontaneously as it occurs every now and then with a certain degree of sustained consistency, it goes through an “evolution” that opens up the possibility of getting worse as time passes by. And as it gets worse, the moral balance of the envious person intensifies to an unreasonable and hence damaging level. Getting at this point, the envious person whose attitude has gotten worse can lead to the commission of nefarious activities that are not only damaging to her/himself but likewise to other people. If the envied stuff is a material possession, a possible outcome by the time one has reached such an escalated point is to resort to at least, stealing and at worst, full-scale robbery.

In the final analysis, what we have seen is the fact that envy is actually grounded on an unrealistic perception of one’s lot in life. It is a failure to grasp one’s scope and limits of capabilities within the framework of what is real in her/his condition. In this sense, if an individual person has a strong grasp of her/his own reality, envy is most unlikely to happen. Having a sober disposition in life and a realistic acceptance of what is and what is not within the sphere of her/his being is the best antidote against envy. This mindset doesn’t, however, prevent us from pursuing a better life. But let’s always get reminded that such is only possible within the realistic limits of our existential circumstances.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 05 June 2019