07__columbine_high_school_massacregoodbyeleninA NY Times book review (4/19/09) of Columbine by Dave Cullen caught my attention because I’d always wondered what was the truth of this tragedy. The reviewer, Jennifer Senior describes the author as not only dispelling the myths but making “the reader care about getting it right.” Cullen makes excellent distinctions between Eric Harris the manipulating psychopath and Dylan Klebold who was miserable and manipulated. There is a range to manipulation; even three yr.olds raise their voices in a public place knowing it may improve their chances of getting what they want. Eric Harris because he is a psychopath is in the extreme, he has no heart and his identity is consumed with having power through manipulation.

Cullen does a great job because he goes after the details. He describes Eric’s teacher as writing on an essay two months before the massacre where 12 died, “I would trust you in a heartbeat.” The teacher was not stupid, Eric was an expert manipulator and never underestimate their ability to fool others. The more someone manipulates the less soul they have. When someone like Eric is vulnerable with someone else there is always a calculated reason for it. Manipulators are always hungry for an audience. Attention is always all about them even if it appears to be about you. Manipulators never sit in the audience, if they remember details about you it is to steer the course of events in their chosen direction.  Manipulators are looking for emotional masochists; someone who believes they deserve to be hurt and mistreated way, deep down.

We are surrounded by manipulation. In the 80’s and 90’s advertisers pounded us about wanting and having more; clearly there was never enough whether we could afford it or not. Now, gas companies are cloaking themselves in being green and concerned about the planet. Aren’t they the ones who killed off the electric car? Parents manipulate with car keys and cell phone privledges. Teenagers lie or too easily escalate into drama to manipulate parents. The internet is swamped with manipulation.

Manipulation is about the pure delight of being powerful. For Eric and many like him power is their identity. It’s very scary to be in love with somebody who’s only intent is manipulation. They see you only as a means to an end. You are invisible. They do not really care about what you want. They are good at telling you what you want to hear. If they smell you changing your loyalty to someone else or to yourself they will campaign for your return with false praise and promises.

Someone like Dylan could not care about himself enough to separate from Eric. Dylan’s identity most likely got lost in pleasing Eric. If Eric had a bad day so did Dylan and if Eric had a good day so did Dylan. There are too many couples like that in the world. Dylan was too depressed inwardly to tease himself away from Eric’s influence. Eric gave him shape and substance. If you don’t know enough about who you are and what you want it is easy to become manipulated by someone else. Dylan was so unhappy he made a life raft of loyalty to Eric.

Misplaced loyalty is something many people need greater self awareness about. How many single people continue to date, live with or even marry someone who is really not interested in who they are? How many people stay in lopsided  relationships where they barely have any identity? If you help someone through med school what do you ask them to do so you can pursue your dreams also? Misplaced loyalty is often a gift of people who don’t feel worthwhile or are terrific caretakers of everyone else but themselves.

There is a lovely gem of a German movie called Goodbye Lenin that illustrates misplaced loyalty. It’s a comedy about a son who turns himself into a pretzel for his mother to be happy. He discovers his mother has betrayed him for decades. Eric and Dylan illustrate one end of the spectrum while Goodbye Lenin is at the other end. Both are worth your consideration when pondering whether or not you allow yourself to stay in a trap of manipulation that ultimately allows you to erase yourself.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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