Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who Pulls Your Strings?

I feel like I am being manipulated all day. And I am not referring to yoga, because that type of manipulation would be welcome. The feeling of manipulation that I am referring to, is the one that evokes guilt. Guilt, the emotion that dominates many of today's conversations, and our actions. I have only been blogging a short while, but I have read about this topic, ad nauseam. In particular, parents fall victim to this strategy the most. It has swallowed us whole. Do not be mistaken, this is no accident, there is a reason for everything, and this is no exception. Children, if your parents love you they will give you what you want. Mothers, if you truly love your babies, then you must buy them the best. Fathers, if you love your wife and child you will give them the best. What is the best? This is where the manipulation begins.

Enter stage left: Madison Avenue

Madison Avenue is a very powerful force against our private consciousness. It directs us to buy, and participate in activities that it deems worthy of our time. Can an outside entity really now what we need, and require? In order to gain power, and make a profit, it will search and create tactics that make us do what they want. And if we don't: GUILT.

Collectively, as a society we have always been comfortable relating to those who are like ourselves. Individuality and separateness has never been encouraged. Because that is the case, Madison avenue knows, that if it can get a majority of people on board, the rest will follow. No one wants to be left out.

Enter stage right: religion

People need to be controlled or they will not know how to act with a moral code. This is the context in which religion arose. Historically, every religion evolved when the people collectively needed a new power over their conscience. And, as religion becomes dated to those it rules, the people cry out for a change. It is not any different today. The major difference today, is that religion has lost its grasp in the industrialized world. It cannot manipulate our actions as easily. Information is at all of our fingertips, not just the intellectuals. Knowledge is everywhere, simply read a paper or look online. With all of this knowledge, one would think it would be more difficult to manipulate society. But, that is not the case. Religion is losing its grasp and Madison Avenue has come in for the kill.

For example, there are five people living in my house: three children and two adults. On any one day, there has to be at least five different places, and activities to do. My husband must go to work. The kids must go to school. There is: piano, dancing, choir, play dates, homework, eating and just playing. I have to either: go to the store, exercise, cook dinner, visit a sick relative, go to a doctor appointment, and do anything else that the family needs. In addition to all of this, I have to love everyone, kiss them, support them, and make my home a place they want to be. Trying to accomplish all of this is so daunting, and at times my head spins. But, for the most part, it is a crazy, beautiful kind of fun. Until, Maidison Avenue and religion walk in my door.

I know that being an object of manipulation will never stop. So there must be a way to cope with it, without resorting to guilt. If I can accept that there will always be someone or something wanting power over me, then maybe I can rise above it. I have started to think of it like this: it is a privilege to have some one's undivided attention, even if only in a blog. With that privilege, comes the responsibility not to manipulate those who trust you. If I can do this in my own home, if I can just start there, then maybe it will spread. And at least my home will not be filled with the plague of guilt. I want my family to have joy, because that is part of my job. I want my family to love without guilt. I want so many things, but I do not want to need them because of guilt.

The constant need to make everyone happy is unnatural. In past generations, the only aspirations of parents, was to feed their family and to put a roof over their head. Because the roof is much easier to provide, there is now a struggle and demand to provide more and more. Now that the church is losing its influence, it has become the power of Madison Avenue to manipulate us into believing we cannot live without certain things. A family can not be happy without the following: new clothes, designer shoes, fancy cars, MC mansion, manicures lawn, and a private education. I don't know about you, but I am ready for a new paradigm of thought. I am restless and agitated. I want to be the one pulling the strings on my marionette. Recognizing what is manipulating me is half the battle, maybe I just have to get comfortable with the fact that so many people want my attention.

Who is pulling your strings? How do you suppress the guilt?


  1. You've really got me thinking this morning, Joely.

    I am no longer a practicing member of any religion, but I was raised as a Catholic and have internalized many of the Church's teachings, so there are definitely ways in which these lessons continue to "pull my strings." In fact, I think I sometimes equate the expectations of my parents and those of the Church and these both continue to influence me.

    I think I am relatively good about tuning out the siren song of Madison Avenue. Both Husband and I are quite thrifty and our tastes usually run more toward comfort and ease than style and commercial expectations.

    One other major source of guilt is what I think of as the general set of expectations of what a mother should be/should do. I try very hard to follow the beat of my own drummer, but I am still aware of others' judgments when I do so.

  2. As you know, I, too, get very frustrated with the guilt that comes with the "not doing" or choosing a path other than the popular one - even if that is just letting the day with your kids take the organic flow instead of scheduling something or vice versa. It is easy to be sucked into a world where your spirituality or your tolerance takes a hit in lieu of retail peer pressure or the feeling that you're being judged for not becoming a joiner (whether that's the private school set or the organic mothering set - or whatever - we / they all judge at times, and, yeah - people do feel pressured to lean one way or the other - or please this group or that group or... just get hynotized into thinking - this "magic solution" / this "privilege" to belong or "do" will make my family happy). You're right - usually, the beauty of your crazy life is right in front of you - hand me downs, frugal vacations, new fancy clothes, cheeseburgers, Catholic schools, the pool in the summer and all those completely just squeezed in moments for "you" that mean SO MUCH (even if it is just to enjoy cooking a fun dinner one night or a quick run in the park - albeit probably shorter than you planned ;-).

  3. Wow, Joely. This is such a deep, insightful, thought-provoking post. Just what I'm coming to expect from you!

    As you say, it's important to know where the manipulation and guilt is coming from. First identify the problem, right? Especially with the saturation of media in our lives, it's no wonder Madison Ave is getting into our heads.

    Sometimes manipulation can come from those close to us, unfortunately. And it's probably not intentional. For example, my mom will call to ask when we're visiting again. (My family all lives 3 hours away, which usually means a weekend visit.) She'll talk about my grandma's failing health, and talk about Easter coming up, and remind me how much it means to my little sister. Which is all true, but which spreads a heavy layer of guilt on the situation.

    This post, these issues are going to knock around in my head all afternoon!

  4. Adding another thought to the Madison Ave "Stage Left", I have long noticed that there is always a major gift-giving holiday. The obvious ones: Christmas, Easter (Candy...obesity!), Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparent's Day... you get the idea. when it's not a gift-giving occasion, it is a spend money one: Fourth of July (Buy those fireworks),on and's hard to to keep your even keel!

  5. Just stumbled upon this blog 2day (isn't the internet great)and wow you got me thinking. So much so that I have made a commitment to never buy another pair of prada shoes. (I may even give away the ones I have now... who am I kidding).

    Anyway thanks for the thoughts and BTW great rainbow picture on the blog. Author & photographer wow

  6. Anonymous,

    I know the prada shoe thing is a tough one. You must know me because that is my short fall.

  7. Eva,
    Mothers have a way of wanting to be the puppeteer and not just a string puller. I hope I avoid this trapping with my own family.

  8. A good lesson is awaiting indeed. First off what you said above, "I hope I avoid this trapping with my own family" Let me reassure you. You're smart and raise a well, healthy and happy family. Most of you're strong and loving.

    It reminded me of Dr. Chopra's Seven Laws Of Yoga I recently watched Youtube: that one and Law 6 I feel fit with this blog entry well... on a spiritual level.
    (I'm starting to sound like my mother)

    But the way American society is it's very hard to be happy without necessities, I mean it's nice to grow attachment to material needs, but they will soon go away... and at the end of the day what matters most is the love you share with your family at the end of the day just knowing that they are there for you. That's what makes me most happy knowing that my family is always there.. and sometimes I get pissy towards my family for not getting the things I want or ask for from them.. but no matter how mad I get it doesn't really matter. Sure for the moment it will but I know they'll support me in other ways I couldn't even imagine. The best thing any mother can give their kids... they'll appreciate it more than anything you'll ever get them... sure they may not realize it till they're, ehm like me, almost 20. Just remember that. :)