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Strings… Theory?


The tendency people have to ‘pull string,’ on the homeless is widespread. In case you don’t know what I mean by that, here goes.

Any time we encounter an authority figure, they’ll put us in a position of embarrassment. As homeless men and women, we are sometimes tolerated, sometimes welcomed. We stand out. We are targeted. When an authority figure takes action against us — regardless it being police, security, social worker, business owner, anyone else — baiting is often the primary element.

What is that, baiting? Typically, it’s a means to escalate a situation. It’s the manipulation of a verbal interaction. The goal is to create openings for the targeted person to fill. By applying a sort of profiling, security guards, social workers, and police officers will take a stance, pose a question, down-talk, imply and insinuate. In this way, the targeted person is likely to say something outrageous, offensive, or threatening. It’s ‘pulling string,’ in the sense a talking doll has its string pulled. The result is both anticipated and desired. It’s a dehumanizing and humiliating experience, but that’s the tactic.

Ultimately, it’s one person going to a lot of trouble to justify a decision they’ve already made. It’s a psychological ploy. It’s an attempt to mask a rationalization, an already-made decision. It’s about control.

We’re all likely close to someone who’s adopted this behaviour. Co-worker, employer, or relative, it’s a not uncommon social strategy.

In my own family, it’s my mother. She’s always been fond of this tactic. She’ll go to lengths to set out verbal traps and land mines. Woe betide ye who transgress!

People who deploy this tactic have an advantage. They can, effectively, become outraged about anything. Your outrageous comment or non-comment allows them to refuse to do something they already don’t want to do, or do something they have already decided on.

In the bigger picture, it’s an attempt to create an enduring atmosphere of caution, as a sort of emotional manipulation centreing your thoughts and actions on their feelings. In a personal setting, it’s one part blackmail and one part hostage-taking.

In one of my most recent interactions with the municipality, I was threatened with arrest for swearing in front of children, of all things. This example needs some expanding-on.

Not only did I not swear in front of children, ffs, the assertion that I did, and that the police needed be called because of this was an attempt to create anger in me. Why? So that by the time police arrived, the ‘Homeless Ambassadors’ (formally known as ‘Parks Ambassadors’), would appear justified in taking action — action, I would point out, which included calling the police.

They had targeted me for sitting in a public park. Middle of the day, public park, minding my own business and setting out to spend some time reading. No one had complained I was in that park. The escalation of this situation was an event which they had precipitated on their own initiative. They had arrived because they target the homeless, and they targeted me. The result was a notice of trespass, which is a ban from the location. They also, as an added insult, had the police ban me from another park, one I had never been to.

There are no public parks in Toronto where the homeless are welcome. More on that in a different post.

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