Our environments act upon us. No amount of awareness will stop that. Nearly every place we inhabit has been designed by some figure behind a curtain to elicit from us a response: home, store, theater, church.
My wife called me a “Stick in the mud” last night during a play, when the actors broke the fourth wall and invited audience members to take selfies and dance the cha-cha. I wasn’t into it. I like my theater scripted, with me not in it. I forced a half-hearted smile and mostly watched.
Maybe it’s easier to be comfortable in an obviously manipulated environment if you haven’t experienced the political or religious extremes of that practice. Maybe sitting through dozens of carefully choreographed altar calls breeds an allergy to having your environment manipulated.
We should study the tricks of advertising so we can spot when it’s being done to us. But it’s always being done to us, and sometimes going along is the better part. Sometimes the figure behind the curtain isn’t malevolent. The actors in the theater last night weren’t selling anything or converting anyone; they were constructing an environment for connection and a shared experience, and I missed it.
We want to recognize the figure behind the curtain and to identify which levers she’s pulling. That’s healthy. But there will be times when we need to trust her too.