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What's So Bad About Trying to Control?

The bad part is we've been trying to fix the wrong bit.

We’ve been getting it all wrong! In a recent conversation with my very good friend Richard Mullan, we were chatting about the experience we had both encountered many times, particularly in training workshops, when people express discomfort or displeasure (or both) about the use of the word control. It was one of those typical enjoyable and engaging exchanges where we were both lost in the ideas we were tossing around. Richard mused at one point, "what's so bad about trying to control?".

What is so bad about trying to control?

As we continued the discussion, we both experienced that delightful moment when a new and surprising idea first presents itself to you. We have indeed been getting it all wrong for the longest time. The bad part about trying to control is the trying, not the control.

What a delightful and fabulously delicious discovery that was!

Let me explain …

Control is a fact of nature. The only time we’re not controlling is when we’re no longer playing in the greatest show on Earth provided by Nature every day. Life is control. To cease controlling is to cease living.

People who object to the use of the word control, and implore the trainer to use another word, are controlling! They’ve just encountered something that assaults their ears and is troubling to their mind and they’re doing what they can to remove its effects. It’s the ear’s equivalent of squinting when you step out into the bright sunlight from a darker place. When people hear something they don’t like, maybe fingernails on a chalkboard, they have what we could think of as an “ear-squint”.

As a teacher and trainer, I’ve frequently encountered ear-squints in workshops when people hear the word control. So, paradoxically, these people control to remove the effects they’re experiencing. I’ve expressed many times – but I’ll spell it out here again because I like the words (more controlling) – control is Nature’s most magnificent deed. Control is life.

Control is the effortless, seamless, invisible process of "life unfolding as it should". The “should” is the control bit that is personally specified and experienced. Perhaps you can recall those times when you were just getting on with things. That’s unadulterated control. Walking along the pavement to get to where you’re going is unadulterated control. Misjudging the crack and stumbling is adulterated control. Trying to regain your balance without spilling the triple espresso you just bought on your way to work is adulterated control.

It’s the trying that indicates there’s a problem, not the control. Isn’t that incredible?! We’ve had it around the wrong way all this time.

Objecting to the word control is objecting to the word “live”. It would be silly to think of “trying to live” as the normal state of affairs. People are only plunged into a state of “trying to live”, when their living is suddenly compromised such as by disease or illness or violence, or when a calamity occurs like a bushfire or a tornado, or when they can’t access sufficient necessary resources. People who live in extreme poverty might be in a daily state of “trying to live”.

Whenever people are trying to control, their routine daily living is somehow being compromised. Compromised control is the only show in town when it comes to problems of living. Illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis are instances of compromised biological control. Stress and distress are instances of compromised psychological control. Harassment, discrimination, and bullying are instances of compromised social control.

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Source: • Andriy Popov, Image ID:11562734, @123RF

During those times when we find ourselves trying to control, control is not the thing we need to address. Control needs to be celebrated, honored, supported, bolstered, assisted, and promoted. And not just control by the few who are fortunate to have sufficient, or even excessive, resources at their disposal.

As a race, our greatest challenge is to figure out how to structure communities, towns, relationships, and nations so that all people can get on with the business of unadulterated control. This structuring will necessarily involve the way in which we distribute resources such as food and medical services and supplies.

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Source: Tinnakorn Jorruang, Image ID:119488443, @123RF

It is a fact, that every year, we produce enough food globally for the entire population to sufficiently nourish themselves each day. It is also a fact, that every year, copious amounts of food are thrown in the trash, while millions of people starve. These two facts serve as ferociously poignant reminders that we are a long way from getting it right.

Control is getting it right. Trying to control is wrong because it indicates there’s a disruption in some form to be negotiated. The less we need to try, the better control is. Better control means more contented and satisfying daily living. Helping others control helps our own control.

Control is gloriously selfish. It’s all about control and it’s all about you. Bringing together a whole bunch of wonderfully self-centered controllers into a huge gathering we might call something like “the world” only presents problems when the controlling of some controllers interferes with the controlling of other controllers. The adulteration to their control means these controllers have to set about trying to rectify the situation.

To improve daily living for all, we need to embrace control and address trying. Trying to control is like trying to breathe. Understanding control is the breath of fresh air we need for a more harmonious global future.