One of the writers I admire most is Judith Martin, better known as "Miss Manners." Sometimes, though, she reminds me of a conversation I once had with an intelligence professional, which began with a question about what connotations I thought the word "manipulation" had. Were they negative?
I was especially annoyed at my neighbor who was complaining to me about this two days ago -- and just yesterday her daughter went into my cooler and took out my container of grapes and brought them over to my lounge chair and began eating them.An elegant solution -- a diplomatic one, even. Manipulative, however, from conception.
Her mom said "Susie, no" and the little girl just laughed and said, "But I like them" and continued to eat. I was so annoyed that I didn't know what to do, so I turned to my husband and asked if he would like to go swim with me.
As I said, we are friends, and our kids play together, but this is getting old. It is not a matter of not being able to afford it, either, because most of our neighbors live a much higher lifestyle than we do. Please help me know what to say without making enemies out of my neighbors!
The neighborly thing to do would be to show concern for the children and organize the parents to do something about it.
"The children always seem to be hungry at the pool," you can tell them. "Should we take turns bringing them snacks?"
Miss Manners does not expect such an enterprise to be the result. Rather, some parents will say that they don't want their children eating between meals, and others will argue about what they consider to be proper snacks.
This will empower you to say, the next time some child tries to help himself, "No, dear, I'm sorry, but your parents don't want you to have that."
So, an ethical question: Is manipulation a virtue? Under what circumstances? What are the necessary constraints to keep it from becoming vicious rather than virtuous?