Given that my blog is called “In Control”, the title of this article might take some explaining! Generally, the term “in control” seems to be used to describe those situations when things are happening the way a person wants. Conversely, the term “out of control” can be used to refer to a person’s objectionable behaviour or to situations and events that are difficult to manage.
There is nothing awful or dreadful about the terms “in control” and “out of control” but they do reflect a misunderstanding of control. We still talk about “sunsets”, for example, even though we know that the sun isn’t really setting below the horizon. While we might now understand what’s actually happening with sunsets, the nature of control remains poorly understood. Becoming more familiar with control and how it works can help people control better for more satisfying relationships and more contented daily living.
Control is not a state like “love” that you can be “in” or “out” of. Nor is control a condition like cancer in which a person might be described as being “in remission” after successful treatment. Control is constant. While feelings of love might come and go, control is ubiquitous. It can’t be turned on and off or put aside until the weekend when you have a bit more time up your sleeve.
Control is more like “life”. From this perspective, the term “in control” makes as much sense as talking about being “in life”. We don’t tend to talk about life that way but we do talk about “living”. Similarly, it makes perfect sense to talk about “controlling”. It doesn’t come as any surprise to discover that we can talk about life and control similarly because, in many ways, control is life.
Control can be lightning fast like the control that connects your bat with the incoming three-finger changeup to send the ball out of the park for a home run. And control can also be methodical and slow like the control that builds a successful career or an enduring and intimate relationship.
Whatever the activity, it’s all control. Control is the process of keeping things the way they should be. Because the world around us is constantly changing, the way things are never remains the same, so the need to keep attending to the difference between the way things are and the way they should be is ceaseless.
This means that there are always at least two important components to any controlling. “The way things are” is one and “the way they should be” is the other. “The way things are” refers to the current state of the world around us (or, at least, our experience of the current state of the world around us) and “the way they should be” refers to our own goals, expectations, desires, beliefs, values, dreams, and wants.
This introduces a relativity to our interactions and experiences. No event or object has any worth other than what we attach to it. Something that is deemed to be “good” or of value is simply a thing that is desired. And the desiring only exists in the mind of an individual controller. That home run that just got walloped out of the stadium will be a triumph for one team and one set of fans and a tragedy for the other team and their supporters.
This relativity applies to everything. Losing your job is only terrible if you wanted to stay employed in that way. A holiday by the beach is only marvellous if you like the sand and the sea. We could say that nothing is ever good or bad but controlling makes it so!
And the controlling is always done from an inside out perspective. No-one can make another person want something if that person doesn’t want it and neither can one person decide for another what the “right” way is to go about things. Because living is the experience of control only each living individual knows if they are living the way they want to live. Trying to convince someone else that they should be living according to your desires rather than their own can be a very frustrating experience for everyone.
You’re never in control. You’re always controlling. Don’t try to fight control – embrace it. Focus on what you want as well as what those around you want and think about the things you do to get what you want as well as the unintended impacts that what you do can sometimes have on what others want.
The secret to contented living is to figure out how to get what you want without preventing others from doing the same thing. This attitude is perhaps summed up in the statement “Live and let live”. We could now understand this as “Control and let control”. And with our new, more informed perspective, we could even improve on it a little bit.
Let’s appreciate our own controlling natures but also, perhaps even more importantly, let’s acknowledge and admire the controlling natures of those around us.
Let’s promote control, support control, relish control, and enhance control.
More than anything, let’s just get on with controlling and helping others to control. Our lives, relationships, communities, and societies depend on it.