A Warning Against Language Manipulation


A man walks into your house. He goes into your living room and proceeds to unplug the television. You find him as he’s about to lift it away. Before you say a word he says, “Excuse me, can you tell me the best way to move this television out of the house? I have back issues and I’m looking to reduce the strain this may cause.”
You are stunned for a moment, but then reply, “I’m sorry about your back. The easiest way is to go down the hall and out the back door. Then you won’t have to worry about the stairs.”
The burglar then leaves with your television. How could this happen?

I know that scenario sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it illustrates an aspect of verbal confrontation that I’ve been made more aware of as time goes by.

How did the burglar get away?

We understand that the main issue at hand is the stealing of the television. And we can assume that the burglar and the victim understand the same thing. But what happened?

The burglar immediately set the terms of the conversation, which were designed to distract, confuse, and manipulate the victim’s thoughts and emotions. But any reasonable person would see through this and get right back to the main issue of the robbery. Right?
Where the victim loses both their television and the confrontation is the moment they accept the terms of the conversation. Now the conversation is about the easiest way to move the television and not about whether the television should be moved in the first place.

It’s like a child who asks their parent how many pieces of candy they can have instead of if they can have candy in the first place. The focus turns to quantity, bypassing the issue of legitimacy, and if the parent isn’t aware they will submit to these terms.

If you engage in conversation or debate, be aware of what you are accepting when you begin to respond to a statement or claim.
Perhaps you are hit with an “either/ or” which forces you to choose one of the options presented, when in fact both options should be dismissed. Or maybe it’s a “Yes or No” topic that isn’t that simple. And back to the first example, which turned a “Why” conversation into a “How”.

Just figured I’d share that little tidbit.

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Posted on March 31, 2010, in Everything Else and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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