I received a private comment on a Medium story saying that the author had looked at my profile and claps, thought we might share some similar interests, and he would appreciate any feedback on his work. The author also followed me and gave me a clap for the story where he left the comment.
Initially, I got a subtle warm feeling. This person might have actually looked at what I have to say whether just looking at a comment or even reading the article he clapped for. I went through my normal process of reading the titles of his work and then selecting a story to read prior to making the decision to follow. The evaluation is sole based on how likely I would like to read future articles from this person (I can be an idealist). I did end up following him because he definitely has something original to say; I am not sure if I am the right person to hear it, but early in my Medium life, I can be a little less picky because I don’t follow that many people.
Looking back at the comment later in the day, I realized how mechanical the comment was. He likely copied and pasted it into tens or even hundreds of different peoples stories. I now think it is unlikely he even read the story he clapped for. If he really read it, he would have commented publicly and actually given a semi-thoughtful response prior his generic comment right at the beginning. I was slightly annoyed coming to this realization as it is a little more elaborate than the “I follow you, you follow me” ritual that many newer writers on Medium employ. The intention is definitely hopeful, yet manipulative. If you are following 7,000 people, you clearly do not intend on reading most of those, but you would be delighted if all of them at least read and commented on your work. Medium can often suffer from the same problems as the rest of the Internet (and world) where everyone wants to be heard, but no one is listening.
I must admit I felt slightly upset over this trivial situation and frustrated that I had been manipulated even for a moment. I pride myself on my clarity of thought and ability to predict the intentions of others. However, I realize now that is just silly ego. Reading this member’s content is presumably good for me (I subscribed), so there is no reason to hold any grudge. Manipulation is something we experience every day and there is plenty of grey area on what constitutes manipulation. If we continue to be stubborn and prideful, always on the lookout for attack, always wanting to be right, we may miss out on the fact that our manipulator (helper) is actually doing something that is beneficial for our lives.
Yes, this is a call for vulnerability. It does expose us to the possibility of being hurt or wasting our time; however, being vulnerable also allows us to be open to new situations, experiences, and people, the source of personal growth. I also think a slight hint of naiveté whether real or feigned can often draw out the people who are most willing to help. On the down side, it also draws out the people most looking to control or manipulate us.
The only defense we have is to try to periodically evaluate whether someone is helping us or hurting us; it definitely helps to have a trusted friend when we cannot be impartial or do not know the subject well enough to properly evaluate the situation. However, we likely wouldn’t have ever had that trusted friend without being open to manipulation. Vulnerability has a high cost and can often be heart-breaking, but it is worth the price because it is the only way we will ever grow.