“The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself.” ~Anais Nin
So I recently saw a screening of Warner Brother and DC’s newest offering, Suicide Squad and, without giving too much away… it involves a lot of manipulation—specifically, forcing people to act against their own self-interest.
In the words of Amanda Waller, the heavy-handed director of the “squad”: “Everyone’s has a weakness, and weakness can be leveraged.”
Do you know how your weaknesses are being systematically leveraged against you? The media does it to you constantly.
Every large news organization. Every major news report. Every advertisement. They are all asking the question, “What do we want the viewer to feel and do?”
They want to make you feel anger, sadness, and dissatisfaction. It’s their job to stoke the fires of fear and indignation, and, of course, make you want to buy. From their point of view, we’re all puppets and they’re just pulling the strings.
I got an email in my inbox a few weeks ago from HP. The title of the email was “Limited quantities available!” It was filled with their latest offerings of 2-in-1 convertible tablet computers.
The graphics were sharp and polished. It showed off all the features and how much I need to “hurry” before the featured products sold out.
Then, about a week ago, I got another email from them. They were still trying to get rid of the same tablet computers (I guess “limited” to them meant the fact that “there cannot be an infinity of computers”)
This probably isn’t a surprise to any of us. Most of us have developed a healthy skepticism to advertising. We know there’s usually an angle, a catch, or something they’re not saying.
But I’m here today to help put words to your underlying feelings. One of the most common tactics advertisers and newscasters use is something called spotlighting: they “shine the light” on a few select facts, and frame the issue as if “these are all the facts you need to make up your mind.” They tap in to our base instincts… the need to fit in, the fear of missing out, and to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
The philosopher William James once said that, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”
So the next time you watch a news spot or see an advertisement that makes you want to act rashly, realize that you are probably being manipulated. Not only should you assume that the news is most likely overblown (Think about it: do you think more people will tune in to a newscast that sounds commonplace or one that appears to be earth–shatteringly alarming?), but also you should prepare to fight back with a toolbox of critical questions. Here are some of my favorite:
- (Regarding Politics) “Has anything similar happened in times past? How did we get through it then?”
- (Regarding advertisements) “Do I really need this right now? Instead of this opportunity, what purchase or investment would go the farthest for affecting the overall happiness of me or my family?”
- (Regarding pretty much ANY alarming news story) “What is the base rate of this occurrence?” (In other words, what is the normal rate of this event happening under similar circumstances? A truly tragic or scary event can cause a disproportionate amount of fear in us if it happened near our town recently… until we realize that said event is nothing out of the ordinary—it falls right inside the normal rate for how often it has happened in the past). I have seen many a newscast broadcast focus on a rare but vivid event, then ask questions like “Are you in danger?” and “Is the government doing enough to protect you?” when the event in question is so rare that being struck by lightning in an open field is more
- Basically, any question that takes the spotlight off of what the presenter says is important and back on what is most important for you.
Don’t be played for a sucker. Be like Batman: Imperturbably focused on what you want to accomplish.
Committed to your success,
Dan Gilbert, “Why We Make Bad Decisions,” TED 2005