What drives us …
Raj Lalwani
Oct 31, 2017 · 10 min read

Humans have not only the capabilities to dream big individually but also the potential to give those dreams a reality by working collaboratively. From building pyramids to finding Higgs Boson (God’s particle), humans have achieved unimaginable goals by coordinating and collaborating in great numbers. No other animal can coordinate at such a high scale as we do and as efficiently as we can. The inherent nature of any coordination has always been the hierarchical set up of organisations. Hierarchical nature has become the fabric of our society. In all types of organisation — political, business, or family, some sort of command centre assumes the authority to oversee the overall development and, in the command chain, orders are passed from top to bottom. Although hierarchy minimises the chaos, it comes at the cost of freedom. People at the top of the hierarchy have operated with two main modes of operation — Control and Manipulation. Although control and manipulation are used to drive subjects, they are very different in terms of execution.


Control is an act of an authority to assume (or offer) the power to direct people’s behaviour. The intensity of control is inversely proportional to the difficulty of the escape from the boundary of influence. The scope of control naturally grows when the probability and possibility of escape of the subjects are limited. After the world war II, the control of Russians on East Germany grew stronger as every possibility of escape kept reducing. In personal relations, authoritative father grow stronger over time as possibilities of escape keeps reducing.

Manipulation works in much more subtle ways. Manipulators influence a person or situation cleverly or unscrupulously. Nobody likes nosy people, therefore trust plays the necessary ingredient for manipulation to work. Since manipulation has shorter life, it inherently carries a susceptibility of exposing the lies of manipulator. The depth and intensity of manipulation is directly proportional to the level of trust exists between the parties involved. Many of the lies of US President Trump have been ignored/brushed off by his supporters because the trust of loyal supporters on him has increased. However the supreme leader of N Korea Kim Jong Un doesn’t have to worry about such trivia.


Control acts on the presumption of possession of subjects as properties and in many cases on the pretext of improving their condition. Just as a husband’s “suggestions”, father’s “directions” and country leader’s “vision” are towards the betterment of their subjects and their perception is always better than subjects’. More often than not a person (Tyrant - for the lack of better word) appropriates the control on subjects when tyrant’s perception suggests the expected outcome of a situation would deviate from the accepted outcome and therefore ends up compromising the gains.

The implementation of control is direct, forceful and open. A wife who is being controlled is aware of her situation. Since the control works on external factors which are extremely difficult to change, the continuity of control can be long-lasting. Once the control is established then mere consistency in behaviour ensures continuity. Control is taken with or without the consent of the subjects and therefore often tyrant proudly “assumes” the responsibility and accountability of the situation.

The objective of manipulator is to influence the subject, in most cases, subtly and indirectly (A hostage situation is one of the exceptions). Unlike control, manipulation is transactional and needs frequent “nurturing” of the subjects by the manipulators to remain in the circle of influencers. By the very nature, manipulation can’t be “taken” by a force. Manipulators exploit the vulnerable situation of the subjects. The possibilities of awareness of potential manipulations inversely affects the effect of manipulation on the subjects.


CONTROL: Possession (property), force, limited escape, difference of perceptions, minimum retaliation, going concerns, portable: controlling nature continues to affect all time during all interactions.

MANIPULATION: Trust, information asymmetry or gap, lack of validation (temporal or current), form of burst (no continuity), Non-portable: manipulation of one kind can’t assure manipulation in all: manipulation at work may not work at home.


The basic level of control is established in a sudden and swift motion. Whether it is military coup or patriarch reign, the appropriation of control is never gradual. Subjects are blinded with the helplessness by the display of power and perception of environment. Because control is implemented through force, fear is one of the basic emotions that is mainly deployed on subjects. With time, the influence of control increases in intensity and in number of subjects. Overtime, the subjects rationalise the reasons of control and find sense in the execution of power up on them. Surprisingly great percentage of women who suffer domestic violence blame themselves for the abuse. In special cases, subjects even develop affinity towards the person who controls them (Stockholm syndrome). Subjects reach a point in time when they accept their situation.

The resources required for the control to be effective is directly proportional to the number of subjects.

On the other hand, manipulation is a slow and subtle process. At first, manipulator builds the trust and then exploits the misgivings of the subjects. Manipulators often work with the emotions such as favour, guilt, fear that compromise self esteem. For e.g. a partner/spouse often is broken on self esteem by pointing on the missteps taken, or mistakes made and encouraged to follow the “suggestions”. Resources for manipulations is not proportional to the number of subjects. For e.g. how often do we notice that News agencies mix the news with the opinions and manipulate the audience in one stroke?

Control is implemented by applying forces on external factors. Since it is largely based on the consequences, a pattern of causality is established over time. The boundaries of control are defined through the causality. For e.g. s child is made to serve some time in naughty corner is a causality.

Manipulation works on breaking the person’s inner self. Manipulators exploit the information gap and trust of the subjects. Manipulation is most effective when subjects are in vulnerable situations. Weak moments reduce the friction to distort the reality. For e.g. someone recovering from a breakup is a perfect situation for manipulators to sneak in. The suggestions during vulnerable times are the best examples to analyse the true motive of a person.

We shouldn’t confuse Manipulation with Favour. The return on the favour of a person who helped in one’s dire need shouldn’t be seen as a form of manipulation. Amitabh didn’t forget Amar Singh’s favour and extended his generosity wherever possible.

FREEDOM (Effects)

Control creates unfavourable environment for people by restricting the freedom of the subjects. Any conscientious person will feel pitiful to live under control. Tyrants fear that freedom creates hope in subjects for the possibility of breakfree. Control societies struggle to prosper through innovations. There is a high correlation between the freedom and the quality of work from creative geniuses. Only in free world, the creativity expands to the greatest level and bring out the genius in us. One should look at the list of the Nobel prize winners and the countries they worked and also the Nobel prize winners and the kind of families they grew up with.

One shouldn’t get confused between living under control and living under constraints. Constraints is the lack of availability of the resources. It doesn’t curtails the freedom.

Manipulation creates conditions that force subjects to take unfavourable actions. Although many a times subjects are unaware of manipulations, sometimes subjects follow through the manipulations with agreement. For e.g. A child’s cry for an ice cream could be a form of manipulations. A false cry might be evident to parents and still they may choose to comply. Freedom for the subjects of manipulations is not restricted and therefore is always within reach. Even when manipulators create a false perceptions of reality, subjects can choose not to comply. For e.g. many people saw through the manipulation in claiming the white supremacy and didn’t comply.

Since manipulators deceive the subjects, the victim of manipulation feel disgust and self-resentment after they become aware of the act. As long as freedom of the subjects doesn’t conflict with the agenda of manipulators, manipulators don’t bother about curtail the freedom.

The impact of manipulation is ephemeral. However, control changes the behaviour of the subjects and therefore its impact on the people remains long term. In some cases, the change can be permanent. Kids raised in a high disciplined environment often lack confidence.

No better example than Stanford prison experiment highlights the adoption and negative effects of control on subjects. The experiment was conducted at Stanford University in 1971 by a research group led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students. Experiment randomly selected volunteered (& homogenous) college students as prison guards and prisoners. Students with authority (prison guards) started to control prisoners so much that many prisoners revolted aggressively. Experiment brought out the evil nature when given authority to people who were otherwise normal is other respect. The behaviour of the participants turned so disturbing that researchers had to stop the experiment in a week instead of two as planned originally. (Read more)

Although one witnesses many instances of manipulation in all walks of life, Jane Elliott’s “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise (Eye of the storm) is one of the best examples that shows our fragility and fallibilities. In order to teach her 3rd graders, Jane divided the class in blue-eye and brown-eye pupils. Initially, blue-eye students were given special treatment and brown-eye students lived under false perception inferiority. With no facts and proofs, she was able to convince one set of students to discriminate the others based on the colour of the eye. Although the experiment was first conducted on kids, Jane achieved the similar results when she conducted many sessions with adults (Read more).


The graph of control drawn Intensity over Time depicts a sudden spike in the initial phases and then flattens towards the ends. The control almost never works gradually. For control to be established effectively, it needs to take charge of the subjects without leaving any scope of escape and for that reason it creates a sudden spike of intensity in the initial phase. In any system or social group, there is a limit to oppression. When the optimum level of control is reached, the graph flattens. Over time, the intensity of the control stays the same however the number of instances of example-setting may go down. It can remain flat at a particular intensity for a long time unless external intervention is applied that causes the intensity of the control to go down. For e.g. tyrant patriarch family never softens over time.

The graph of manipulation plotted Intensity over Time increases gradually if trust is kept constant. However, manipulation graph should be viewed in 3 axes (viz. Intensity, Time & Trust). The initial phases of relationship time is spent on building the trust. It requires good gestation period. Once a decent level of trust is reached then intensity of manipulation begins to take off. As mentioned earlier, intensity of manipulation is directly proportional the level of trust. Once it reaches the maximum limit, there are good chances that it may not remain there because of the dynamics of the world. It will come down to optimum level. The lifecycle of manipulation is generally shorter than that of control therefore intensity curve may come down to zero because of the cognizance of manipulation.


The first stage of breaking away from the control condition is the awareness i.e. the realisation of subjects living under the control environment. Realisation develops the curiosity to seek out more information. Better informed subjects are better positioned to question the rules of the control. Questioning may have some fallbacks but that should comfort subjects because it is the beginning of the end of tyranny. A pattern of standing up to oppression brings courage and support. With hope, the wall of power can be broken. Hope acts as a catalyst to question the continuity of the control.

The awareness of manipulation is the biggest constraint subjects have. Because manipulators don’t directly control the action, it becomes easier to break free from the influence of manipulation. In order to be aware of manipulation, one shouldn’t limit set of number of people for interaction. Interaction with different set of people would bring different perceptive and therefore any chance of potential manipulation will be highlighted. Once awareness of manipulation is directly impacts the trust.

In many relations, control and manipulation are applied together. This is a situation in which subjects under control feels right to be under control.


Similar to control and manipulation, there is another form of drive that works on our emotions and nudge subjects to take actions against their will: Motivation. Control & Manipulation works on subject’s weakness whereas motivation works on subject’s strength. The real difference in motivators approach is the freedom. Motivators give back the freewill to the subject and bring out the best. They don’t hide difficulty levels but make it look achievable. They make subjects see how beautiful the life is. It is the skill of motivators to make subjects love themselves, love the life, & love everyone around. Motivators do not necessarily go head on with tyrants or manipulators, they empower their subjects by giving the hope of possibilities.

In our life, we are the victims as well as the perpetrators of control and manipulations. However, the awareness of our behaviour and conditions will always keep us on guard for better future and happiness. It is important to be observant of it because we live once and we live a very very short life. We deserve to live in no other way but happily.

Further reading:

Stanford prison experiment : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment

Jane Elliott’s Eye of the storm

Also read:

Advance senses of future humans

Will our next stage of evolution enable us to “procure” any desired skill or intelligence? Can we ever create a technology that will give us the superhero capabilities?

Raj Lalwani

Written by

Senior Product Manager - Growth at Ola cabs, Technologist, Entrepreneur, Atheist, Creative, Thinker, Leader, & Reader.

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