Don’t Wanna Be a Puppeteer When I Grow Up
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Freedom .
There are times when my fear of manipulating others paralyzes me from taking any action at all. It’s an aftereffect from everything I’ve witnessed over the past few years. And I guess having been manipulated over and over and over, I not only am sensitive to being manipulated but to doing any manipulation myself.
I don’t want to be manipulative, and I don’t want to be controlling. So there are times when I’m backing off. Times when I won’t flirt. Times when I won’t take the initiative. Times when I won’t say hi and strike up a conversation with a stranger knowing I’ll get a certain result. I’m intuitive enough to know the effects if I formulate that cause. And if I know that doing certain things will get a certain result, am I not being manipulative?
As a writer, it’s considered to be a very good thing if I can manipulate the feelings of my readers. Yet, with those closest to me, I don’t want to manipulate their feelings. I want them to feel things because they feel things, not because I arrange for them to.
And so today, I’m in a little bit of trouble with one of the teams I work with. I’ve been there with them every step of the way, even delayed going to see my doctor by a few days so I could finish a project with them. They have my private cell number and my home number. I answer their questions on “my” time because the work they do is important and they need my help at times that aren’t always convenient.
And then they call and I don’t answer the phone because I’m at the doctor’s office. As soon as I’m done, I contact them, make sure everything’s okay, and apologize for not being available. I don’t want to tell them about the lump that scares me or where I am emotionally right now because then I’ll have to answer questions and I don’t want to answer questions. I want work to be a safe place where I don’t have to think about the ramifications of this doctor’s appointment.
So the best I can do is offer up an explanation of an unexpected doctor’s appointment and that I’ll take care of whatever the team needs first thing in the morning. My other teams are okay with this arrangement. But then they want to know if I can do something in the afternoon. I explain that no, I won’t be in. Another appointment. I can almost hear the sigh of exasperation. For once, I’m the one who’s not available. It doesn’t matter how far behind they’ve been on everything else, suddenly I’m the one who’s stopping progress and I get the full brunt of the sigh.
I’m tempted to manipulate. If I said what was really wrong, they might back off.
It was that way six months before Shannon was born. I’d had a miscarriage scare. My obstetrician had insisted I stay home for the whole pregnancy. I had no choice but to work. He asked me to cut back to half days and I did—back to ten hours a day during one of the worst seasons and while working on a project that was in litigation. The lawyers wanted me to fly to D.C. I had a great memory that the General Accounting Office couldn’t trip up, they said.
But I couldn’t go. I was home on bed rest and told that if I did take a flight to the Pentagon, I’d lose my baby. I finally had to tell the team why I couldn’t accommodate them. Most were understanding and never said a word, yet some let me know the project failed because I put my health and my baby’s health—life?!—ahead of my work. They’ve probably long since forgotten me, but I still remember them.
Vicki tells me that sharing information isn’t the same as manipulating. She equates manipulation with something bad and, honestly, so do I. The idea of manipulating or controlling has stopped me many times in the past year from taking action where I really wanted to. It’s kept me from sharing information that might have been vital to a relationship. My over-reaction to manipulation kept me from making a point.
I once refused to call a man. It would have been so easy and so worthwhile just to pick up the phone and talk to him. But I knew that if I did, the conversation would end with him asking me out. And I felt that if he really wanted to go out, he’d ask me of his own accord, without any coaxing from me. So I didn’t call.
Vicki chided me that I wasn’t being manipulative in that, that it was okay to call, to want to talk to somebody, even if I suspected the outcome. It wasn’t manipulation if I wasn’t controlling him into doing something bad. He still had control over his actions, and he could still say no to any impulse to asking me out. It wasn’t like I was asking him to ask me out or that I was planning to beg or plead or cajole. I would simply provide an opportunity and it was up to him to take it. Voila! No manipulation on my part!
Still, I didn’t do it. I wanted free will to reign. So I didn’t call that man that night. And we didn’t go out. I often wonder what would have happened if I’d been more “manipulative.”
So instead, I back off. I try to let people have the freedom to make their own decisions. Even though later they may say, hey, if you’d just told me you were sick, I wouldn’t have been such a jackass. Which, of course, makes their jackassedness my responsibility as if my withholding of information is suddenly a worse thing than giving them smidgens of information to get what I want.
And then there’s my counselor, Mark, who tells me that manipulation is not always a bad thing. His example? If he has a headache, he can manipulate himself into not having a headache by taking an aspirin. That, I understand. But I’m a double Pisces. I have an emotional nature that’s a strong part of the loving and giving aspects of my personality, and I refuse to apologize for being an emotional person. I like sharing my feelings. It doesn’t diminish me to share them, even if I’ve tended to choose partners who couldn’t understand my emotional aspects. I’d like to talk to my friends about my current situation without any perceived manipulation, openly and honestly, not arranging an outcome of guilt but just simply being.
I think that’s the key. If whatever I say is designed to make someone feel guilty enough to take a certain action, then that’s the type of manipulating I want to avoid.
I know that feeling so well, of being made to feel guilty until I did something a certain way, even when it went against the grain of everything I believed in and everything I knew to be true.
And that’s a feeling I don’t want to share with people I love.