Just on time for Christmas, I came up with a new drinking game:

  1. Take a list of standard tactics used by predators to latch on to their victims; for instance, the list provided by De Becker in “Gift of Fear”.
  2. Listen to a political speech.
  3. Every time you spot a tactic, take a shot.

Now, as a drinking game it’s bloody awful, because it would destroy your liver in no time flat. As a general concept, though, I’m starting to think it’s got real potential.

What I personally found is that when there is clear and present danger, I can spot it pretty easily. If five leather-clad muscle-bound men swinging chains and tyre irons tried to talk me into a dark alleyway promising that nothing bad would happen to me, chances are I’d grow somewhat suspicious. If a stranger tried to use typecasting or appeals to faux-etiquette to force me to down a mystery drink at a bar, my pervdar may ping. When I unexpectedly turned out to be the sole heir to a distant Uncle’s estate and suddenly my family started talking in “WEs”, it made me pay attention. It’s when a situation does not seem to present any danger to me that I tend to not fully engage brain functions, and as a consequence may completely fail to notice even obvious attempts at manipulation.

For instance, I was recently on a computer forum where someone was talking about his health issues, which sounded admittedly severe. He then went on to say something like “for those of you who are not superficial and obsessed with the physical aspects…” And I just glossed over it. A friend had to point it out to me – literally. I’d just registered it as blah-blah-blah, rather than as a clear example of typecasting. I’d not noticed it, probably because it had 0 impact on my life, when it actually may be a very good indication that the person in question is someone I ought to either avoid, or be at least be on guard against.

I don’t think it’s just me. I know plenty of people who only use their self-defence skills in what they perceive are self-defence situations. At home, at the office, at the gym, etc., their skills lay dormant – not only unused, but unpracticed.

It’s a damn shame, for two reasons. Firstly, just because a situation is not likely to lead to your death or physical injury, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe. A manipulatory, ill-meaning co-worker may not kill you, but sure can make your life a misery. Secondly, skills don’t wear off with good practice. In fact, the more used you are at looking for certain signs, the better able you tend to be at spotting them early when it really counts.

So this is my proposal for a game: keep the list of these behaviours in mind, and see in which settings they pop up. When you spot, them, file them for future references. Are they indicative of someone’s routine attempts at certain types of manipulation? Are they just a result of foot-in-mouth disease, or sloppy thinking? Either way, do you want these people in your life? Are some environments routinely toxic, or excessively tolerant of toxic behaviours? Do you want to stay there?

 (Yes, these behaviours  – forced teaming, using charm and niceness, giving too many details, typecasting, loan sharking, making unsolicited promises, ignoring NOs – also belong to the “how to make people like you” and”how to sell refrigerators” lists… but manipulation is manipulation, regardless of its final intentions. I much prefer to know when I’m being manipulated even if it can’t have any ill effects, than miss it when it’s a real issue.)



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