Mind Over Manners

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

So you've got a character with awesome Psychic Powers, up to and including mind reading and control. Problem is, he isn't into Bad Powers, Bad People, but prior stories show how The Dark Side can oh so very easily corrupt individuals who use these gifts irresponsibly. What's more, the powers will make them akin to a Deus Ex Machina if they go Mind Raping, memory wiping, or even "just" making pacifists out of their enemies. Allies will be paranoid and afraid of them; suspecting that their own thoughts are heard or not their own, or are being manipulated by mundane means (telepaths are rarely dumb; their ESP seems to come with lots of IQ). And if they don't use their powers in that manner, expect cries of Reed Richards Is Useless and Misapplied Phlebotinum.

So how do you justify people like Professor X or Martian Manhunter being good guys, without having them solve the plot and mind-wipe the Rogues Gallery, all while avoiding sappy Fantastic Aesops intended to hold back the phlebotinum?

Why, you make them the most damn ethical, trustworthy and scrupulous characters you can find, that's what! Sure, there will always be that lingering "are they really practicing what they preach?" doubt, but giving them an overall ethical attitude and behavior keeps up Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

They can delve a little into the grey area in telepathy, but wading too deep into murky waters (while excellent drama) has the downside of heralding a full fall from grace or being Put on a Bus while they sort out their ethics. Usually they can get away with "white lies" and forgotten memories, a little mind control if the alternative is worse, but never Mind Rape or destroying a personality.

This also gets to be an Elephant in the Living Room when mindwipes are used to protect the Masquerade, especially when it seems like it's more for convenience and not necessity.

Examples of Mind Over Manners include:


  • Subverted in Mahou Sensei Negima when Negi was going to wipe Asuna's mind after she finds out he's a mage (in the first episode no less!), though he had to do it because it's actually better than the other option, or at least more ethical.
    • The mages themselves partially admit this by outlawing things like love potions. What's curious is the other things they are allowed to do.
    • Played completely straight with Nodoka, whose mind-reading abilities make her one of the most feared of the True Companions, leading at least Haruna to wonder if she uses it for more "sordid" practices. The other characters theorize that she was given one of the more unsettling powers because of her shy attitude and sheer kindness.
    • Mage Society in general was a little too gung-ho in mind-wiping any Muggles who were inconvenient. After a war over the subject and no clear answer, the plot thread was put on the back burner for the Magic World arc.
  • Code Geass's protagonist Lelouch falls under this for most of the series; he has no problem forcing his enemies to commit suicide or sacrificing potential allies for a strategic advantage, but he holds free will in high regard, and goes to great lengths to amass his army of followers without using his Evil Eye to influence them, which would have made the job far easier. When he starts using his powers to enslave people indefinitely, it's a sign of just how far he's fallen into despair - at the moment it was the only way he could continue fighting, and entirely necessary in order for him to prevent The End of the World as We Know It.

Comic Books

  • Professor X of the X-Men... usually occasionally.
    • This may or may not be subverted in Ultimate X-Men. Xavier certainly presents this image...
      • While there's several hints that Ultimate Xavier may not be as scrupulous as the original, there is also an amusing double subversion when Ultimate Emma Frost tells him not to try his "hint of menace" schtick on her, because she knows him better. Of course, she'd think that either way...
      • Considering recent events in both universes Primarily, but not only, an X-Men team in the 616 Universe whose existence the Professor wiped from everybody's minds the "real" Marvel Universe's Professor X and the Ultimate Universe Professor X are about on par as far as morality maybe even switched as far as who's "good" and who's "bad".
      • On the other claw, Chuck-616 also did things like wipe the existence of teenaged Hank McCoy from the memory of everyone who ever knew him, including his parents. This wasn't a retcon from the Darker and Edgier era: it happened during Lee and Kirby's original run. Xavier's long-standing status as too ethical to do such things is the actual retcon; during the original run, altering memories to preserve the X-Men's Secret Identities was practically a Once Per Issue thing.
  • The entire roster of DC heroes (save Batman, who was P.O.'d to find they'd been doing it to him, too) mind-wiped their enemies and many friends to the effect of Identity Crisis and all the problems stemming therefrom.
  • Martian Manhunter of the Justice League.
    • Intriguingly, it's exposure to human thoughts and attitudes later in the first series which causes J'onn's rather pleasant, calm demeanor to break down somewhat. (Apparently, Martians were just not the type to keep secrets, and the deceitfulness of humanity was something of a shock for him which led to him strongly disliking humans later on.)
      • Naw, it wasn't that he made contact with a human mind that caused his freak out, it was that he made contact with an entire city of them and was overwhelmed. He is brought back from his self-imposed exile when he stumbles upon a neighborhood looking for a lost child in the woods.
    • In the animated Justice League, when encountering the alternate universe/Justice Lord version of J'onn, Batman quietly asks if Justice League J'onn has read the other's mind yet. J'onn replies that it's not something Martians do to one another.

Batman: Can't? Or won't?
J'onn: Both.

  • Saturn Girl of the Legion of Super-Heroes, at least the Silver Age version. Not sure about the modern ones.
    • Post-Zero hour Saturn Girl generally had pretty good telepathic manners, but was a whole lot grayer than the original flavor. Most of the instances of Mind Rape were accidental, though.
  • Quite subverted with the Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan, as he frequently used his power ring to not only read minds (including to see if a particular female was attracted to him) but to wipe memories particularly anytime someone learned his or someone else's secret identity. It was so prevalent that he even lampshades it in an issue when a villain reveals his and Barry Allen's secret IDs to their respective SO's of the time, noting how even he was getting tired of that corny routine from having done it so often. That doesn't stop him from conveniently leaving out restoring that bit of their memories when convenient amnesia afflicted everyone in the city. He at least once used his power ring to force someone to walk into a police station and confess to framing him for a crime because it was easier for him than trying to prove his innocence in more legal ways.
  • In an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, after Aunt May finds out that Peter is Spidey's secret identity, Kitty begs Jean to use her powers to erase the discover from Aunt May's mind. All of the other X-men tell Kitty that this is not a good idea. Subverted in a different issue, where Xavier performs some sort of telepathic sedation on a super powered foreign exchange student. Spider-man asks if doing that was ethical, and Xavier admits it probably wasn't. (In all fairness, the student did nearly kill Spidey, Kitty, Jean, Storm, and himself when he woke up in the X-jet and blew a hole in it. Sedating him was probably the safest course of action.)
  • Mind████ from Empowered used her psychic powers on herself to prevent herself from becoming like her Complete Monster brother.
  • Generally averted by Wayne Tucker of Psi-Force, who in addition to the combat uses of his psychic powers routinely erased the memories of both bad guys and bystanders, psychically coerced people into doing things like giving him rides wherever he needed to go, and occasionally invaded his teammates' minds without permission. (Some of these instances are understandable given that he was one of a group of runaway teenagers trying to evade a shadowy organization that apparently wanted them dead; some of them, not so much.)


  • Jedi in Star Wars.
    • Although played out as light teasing, Padmé asks Anakin if he intends to use a mind trick on her when she's reluctant to tell him about past boyfriends.
  • Subverted by Spock in Star Trek VI. We don't know what exactly he did to Valeris, but it clearly wasn't pleasant.
    • It could have been something as simple as the fact that he was mind-melding her pretty much against her will to get her to give up information she did not want to disclose, and she was resisting him mentally.
  • In Men in Black, J is not happy with K being so trigger happy with the Neuralizer and even asks at one point if K ever used it on him. K denies it, though we saw him use it on J at the beginning of the film.
    • And in the sequel, J gets a reputation for neuralizing people recklessly, mostly his partners. He's had good reasons each time, though.
    • Averted in the third movie, where the neutralizer is used frequently on large portions of the public and not treated as ethically problematic.
  • X Men First Class threw this principle in the crapper by showing a much younger, less disciplined Xavier who had no problem using his powers on anyone whenever it was convenient for him. Although he promised Raven not to use his powers on her.


  • Anne McCaffrey's Tower and The Hive series.
  • Healers in Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden Universe books.
  • Maria V Snyder's Study series, at least in part.
  • This is most of the drama in Mercedes Lackey's Arrow's Flight, but worse, because Talia really can't tell when she's influencing someone and when she's not. Heralds in general would never dream of casually reading the thoughts and emotions of others, mainly because they've all been chosen for their discretion and selflessness.
    • It's also discussed in By the Sword between Kerowyn and Eldan, who find they must reconcile their different attitudes toward their telepathy; Eldan comes from a culture in which such abilities are commonplace and governed by Heraldic ethics, while Kero has lived all her life in a culture in which being able to read others' thoughts is almost unheard of, compelling her to keep her telepathy a secret and refrain from using it any more than she can possibly help so as not to lose the trust of those around her.
  • The teachers in Harry Potter have no problem using legilimency on students.
    • The only teachers known to have been capable of legilimency were Dumbledore and Snape, and neither ever used it beyond the casual ability to intuit if they were being lied to. The only times the more invasive version is used is on a willing subject, for the purposes of teaching defense against it and possibly on Kreacher by Dumbledore in Order of the Phoenix. And on Harry, after he slashed open Draco's flesh with Dark Magic.
  • Any mind magic on others in The Dresden Files is Mind Rape; as the human psyche doesn't react well to being externally changed. Even neutralizing a heroin addiction is Black Magic.
    • Then again, the White Council regards mind magic as very very grey area and just prohibits it altogether, just to be on the safe side.
    • It also seems to be legal to do diagnostic or corrective mental magic, providing you have the consent of the subject—for example, in one of the books a passing reference is made to systematic attempts to pinpoint and reverse a villain's subtle mind control in members of an organization. Also, Harry himself has engaged in some mental sparring with his apprentice, so as to practice their mental defenses. Oh, and the laws of magic only apply to humans—mind-rape on vampires or demons or whatever is totally fine.
  • Culture Minds combine unfathomable processing power with machines that can manipulate matter on the subatomic level, essentially giving them total mind-reading and brainwashing powers. However, the Culture also respects individual privacy so much that actually using this power is the closest thing there is to a crime in the Culture, and will result in the Mind being ostracized even if it was done for the greater good.
  • The Betazoids in the Star Trek novels are usually shown as being like this. In the novel Well Of Souls, from Star Trek: The Lost Era, the Betazoid Ven Kaldarren refuses to telepathically scan the shady characters he's travelling with, despite their highly unpleasant personalities. He later acknowledges he was foolish not to. Indeed, they're planning to kill him, and his son.
  • The tension between this trope and Mundane Utility forms most of the plot of How Like a God, and a lot of the rest is about tension between this and Comes Great Responsibility. Along the way, the protagonist hits every trope from Psychic-Assisted Suicide to (almost) "It's Not Rape If You Enjoyed It". Then again, when he finds that There Is Another, he looks like a saint in comparison.
  • The Sentinels from the Firebird Trilogy have very strict, self-policed rules on how they are and are not allowed to use their telepathic powers. Penalties for violating the fundamental tenets of the Code range from having their powers blocked to execution. This Code keeps them "nice" and prevents the significantly more numerous non-telepathic people (among whom they live) from wiping them out due to mistrust.
  • The alien "Hydrans" in Joan D Vinge's Cat trilogy evolved with their powers, and this trope was a natural side effect. If a Hydran makes someone else unhappy, they feel unhappy. If they cause someone else pain, they feel pain. If they kill someone else, they die. This resulted in their civilization being positively Utopian... until humans showed up. At first humans were overjoyed to have such nice neighbors, and by some quirk, they were even genetically compatible. But eventually the Bastards among us realized that those fail-safes still applied - but only to Hydrans and Hydran/Human hybrids. Humanity simply took their entire civilization away from them, and they were unable to do anything about it.
  • Subverted like hell in the Twilight series, where Edward Cullen reads the minds of everyone except for Bella, and that's because he literally can't read hers. In Midnight Sun, he does say that he blocks people, but that's just because he finds them annoying (barring his family). He isn't bothered by mindreading anyone he wants, and is pissed when he discovers he can't know every little thing Bella is thinking.
  • Subverted so very much in Hush, Hush. Patch constantly commits Mind Rape on Nora, from talking to her telepathically to making her think she was falling from a roller coaster to her death.

Live Action Television

  • The Psi Corps of Babylon 5 have a fairly strict set of guidelines determining when they can read people's minds and how deep they can go under what circumstances. Sometimes they even follow it. Sometimes not.
  • In Heroes, telepathic "scanner cop" Matt Parkman initially uses his mind reading powers to fight crime, but after he evolves the ability to completely control the minds of others he becomes much more reluctant to use his powers at all, to the point that by Volume 5 he's categorized his ability as a drug and has even checked himself into an AA group.
  • Evie from Out of This World needed to borrow an ESP power to help with a fundraiser. Because she is a bit young, she has a bit of trouble not commenting on the private thoughts of others, and later needed to procure a magician to lend Plausible Deniability to her trick.

Video Games

  • Satori Komeji of Touhou fame is supposedly greatly disliked by humans and youkai alike for her mind-reading powers. The fact that she won't stop bragging about reading minds probably didn't help...
    • In fact, the only people that do like her are animals that can't talk.[1] Satori's mind-reading power lets her communicate with them, and they're very grateful for that.
    • Played hilariously in the fangame The Genius of Sappheiros. After refusing the protagonists' attempt to recruit her to the party, she proceeds to go on as usual and read out embarrassing things about everyone - until she realized that the now livid party (including members who are normally opposed to Reimu and Marisa's "fight first ask questions later" attitude) are all surrounding her, hell bent on beating her up.
    • Satori's sister, Koishi Komeji, permanently closed her own third eye, thus eliminating her own mind-reading power, in order to avoid that sort of hate. Which it did, by way of bizarre side effects (by cutting off her heart/mind[2] she no longer has thoughts or feelings, and it's impossible for other people to care about or even remember her).
  • Averted in Golden Sun by Ivan, who has no sense of boundaries when it comes to his Mind Reading (mostly because nobody can even tell when he's doing it) and in fact is eager to corner some guys in their room at the inn because he thinks they might be behind the recent thefts.

Web Original

  • Played straight in Tales of MU with the telepathic priestess Dee. Subverted with "delicate blossom" Violet, who was raised by hippies and has no sense of boundaries.
  • Used in Freak Angels. Part of the titular mutants' code of honor is not to use their mind-control powers on others, and a great deal of drama comes from asking what the difference is between brainwashing others of traumatizing experiences (as Sirkka does) and brainwashing them into doing your bidding (as Mark and Luke do).
  • Most of the Psis in the Whateley Universe, particularly really powerful Psis like Fubar. At the Whateley Academy, there's even required material on the ethics of psychic powers (which the unethical like Don Sebastiano ignore).
  • In Chakona Space skunktaurs are taught to be like this from cubhood.

Western Animation

  • Used in the Starship Troopers CGI cartoon: Dizzy Flores is claustrophobic, which hurts her on a mission where The Squad has to go bug-hunting in an underground cavern. Carl, the team psychic, uses his powers to remove her claustrophobia, but not before debating the issue (since he's never had to do something like that before and was worried that complications might arise). He doesn't have problems mind-raping enemy Brain Bugs, however.
  • Part of Maguro of the Sushi Pack's powers includes mind reading and mild mind control (usually just to calm someone down). She rarely uses these on anyone other than her own teammates, although she did use mind control to make a museum director hang some of Tako's art.
  • Brought up occasionally in X-Men: Evolution. While Charles did occasionally mind wipe to keep mutants a secret, moral use of the powers were incredibly important. In one episode where Jean loses control, she accidentally reads Rogue's mind, and immediately apologizes profusely for it.
  • Explictly brought up and lampshaded in Galaxy Rangers. The team psionic, Niko, comes from a sanctuary world that is not on any map or chart. Their highest law is "One's mind belongs to one's self."
  1. and youkai that got to know her when they still were non-talking animals
  2. same word in Japanese