Does losing control scare you? Do you see not having control as a weakness? Do you receive criticism and negative feedback when you make a mistake and are “out-of-control?
What Is Control?
Given how much attention and pain are associated with control, what is it exactly? According to The Free Dictionary, control is the ability to direct, regulate and restrain. It is essentially the ability to demand of others. You would think that it would not be a big deal since most people recognize that we all need to cooperate and work together. But it is and is a long standing problem between people. So where did all of this control come from? We can point to several culprits all from our ancient past:
- our fear of the unpredictability of nature. Even today, with all of the resources we have to manage our lives and secure our physical well-being, we are still vulnerable to natural forces and often in fear of them.
- the violence of our past. Given the difficulty of surviving for our early ancestors, violence was frequently used to secure basic necessities. We acquired a bad reputation with each other.
- in a world of scarce resources educating a few people was more practical than educating everyone, so knowledge was concentrated in a few hands, creating perceptions of superiority and entitlement.
- people get used to a system, their perks and entitlements or the lack of them, start protecting their positions and limiting change to the detriment of everyone.
So we have a systemic control problem developed over time that is not going away any time soon.
The Downside Of Control
Control comes with such a downside, it is surprising that we humans have not put the subject on the table more openly. So what are some of the downsides of control?
- it makes assumptions about people that then result in expectations which unfortunately seem to have a life of their own – like they are etched in stone. So expectations start to control behavior and we have lost sight of the reality of real people who are all alike in some ways and different in others.
- expectations eliminate the need for give and take which means that we are hurt each other by refusing to engage in natural give and take. Bullying becomes the norm in relationships rather than mutual respect.
- control is results oriented, and demands a fixed, specific and usually known outcome. It does not necessarily seek the best possible outcome in the present. We significantly shortchange ourselves when we do this.
- control seekers value security which they would have more of by recognizing that life and people are ever changing.
- control seekers in my experience rarely take in to account how much we do not know. Expectations are funny that way. They create a false kind of knowing based on approval and the status quo and overlook other types of knowing. The consequences can be short-sighted or counterproductive mistakes to terrible disasters. Many civilizations, like the Mayan and others, collapsed by holding on to the status quo when change and adaptation was required.
So What Can We Do About Control?
The easiest way I know of to make peace with this issue in my experience is to recognize that in each moment both the known and the unknown exist and coexist. And we need to respect both. Our past history with all its warts got us this far at great expense to many. I marvel at the people centuries ago who got into rickety boats to find new lands and the incredible work that went into creating some of our heritage sites like the pyramids and Taj Mahal.
So how to approach control:
- respect that past as we seek to move forward and improve quality of life on the planet.
- avoid all or nothing battles. Usually the past has something to offer even as we change it. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater is a reckless as refusing any and all change.
- think of change as a rebalancing rather than a rejection. When you approach problems and people in this way, you are treating the past and people as a part of the solution which honors the good in them.
- life conditions are more important than expectations. Sometimes we can enjoy our comforts and other times we need to relinquish them.
- respect the good in other people. Some of our failures are failures of imagination rather than desire.
- be kind always. We all suffer from fears and limitations.
- use the baby step method to create change, to let positive steps build on each other.
- forgive as much as you can.
Control And Trust
Control issues are often about a lack of trust. Distrust can become institutionalized and entrenched in our minds. As a result, cynicism has become a popular attitude about life. When we do our part on control issues, we are helping to restore trust in a world battered by conflict and fear. Every step you take to reduce control issues is an act of courage but also an act of generosity. And something to be proud of.