This month's AIG Passle theme of 'understand and influence the motivations of others' has been rather challenging to write about, not because of the lack of content to comment on, but because of the overwhelming deluge of evidence that we see all around us at a political, social and individual level. My mind has been as scatty and indecisive as it is when I visit a buffet. I end up regretting eating too much at first because I've not left enough room for the medium rare steak that I really wanted but didn't see, because I was too excited and consumed by the array of cuisines laid out before me.
I had to control my urge to write about a topic, until I found something that really grabbed my attention and I felt would be of REAL interest to readers of this post. This came when watching all three episodes of Louis Theroux's documentary series Dark States. Theroux is a journalist I have admired for many years and his series documents the bleak existence people live in American towns and cities entangled in the great social issues which seem almost beyond repair.
All three episodes so far have been as enlightening and interesting as they have been disturbing and somber. Louis is a master influencer not because he exudes power over the people he talks to, but he has a unique ability to put that person at ease to the point where they trust him enough to open up and discuss their lives with an honesty that is often missing in the worlds they live in. Theroux, through his warm, inquisitive and apparently naive approach, manages to build an incredible level of rapport with the people he talks to which results in a great amount of candid confessions from his subject. He also rarely takes their first answer as the truth and will subtly dig further to understand their true motivations and desires for doing the things they do. This is what makes him a master influencer in my eyes as he encourages people to open up and offer information about themselves that they may not even provide to the people closest in their lives.
The series has been littered with examples of this, however episode 2; Trafficking Sex, is the one I would encourage you to watch if you don't have time to watch all three and want to see Louis at his most effective. He examines the sex trade in Houston and what struck and surprised me is one of the reasons that women get into and remain in that line of work. My naivety on the subject led me to assume that the motivating factor for the prostitutes may be poverty, drug dependency, fear of reprisals, excitement of conducting illegal activity and the allure of high rewards to name a few.
But one of the common themes that Louis pulls out in the episode was, to my surprise, the relationship the prostitute has with her pimp. To counter my assumption of why someone would continue in this line of work, the women he interviewed spoke about how their pimp made them feel wanted, special and important, so much so that they become excited to hand over all the money they had just earned to him. The pimps discussed using the women's desire for these factors, manipulating their vulnerabilities and fear of violence to exploit them in the most cruel and abhorrent ways.
Clearly we only saw a handful of interviews Louis conducted with a few women from Houston and so it would be foolish of me to assume that this was the main reason that the majority of women became involved in the sex trade and this is not the point I am making. Rather, the episode acted as a great reminder to me that the assumptions we make about people based on a job title / label / background / way of life etc are rarely true. But by spending a bit of time with them to understand the individual, and using the techniques Louis does so well, will unlock a trove of information and unveil the true driving forces behind their actions. This does not have to be set in the cold and dangerous streets of Houston, Theroux's approach can be applied to any context where your aim during an interaction is to understand a person's perspective.
Houston, the fourth largest city in the US, is widely considered to be the number one hub for human trafficking in North America. The US Department of Justice estimates that at least one in five of all the country's victims are trafficked through the city, and most of these people will be forced to work in the sex industry. In Dark States - Trafficking Sex, Louis spends time with American women working in the city's illegal sex industry and explores the often complex dynamic between prostitute and pimp. He discovers a subculture that plays by rules that are morally challenging to most people and seeks to understand what stops these women breaking free. Louis also embeds with law enforcement on undercover operations and meets Vice Division officers tasked with persuading the working women to speak out against their pimps