Thursday, August 2, 2012

Control Freaks Part 1

Let's explore control.

For some time now, I've been meditating on the desire of us human beings to have control over our lives. I've come to this conclusion:  Control is an illusion, as is safety. This, of course, is not without some nuance.

First, let's talk about control.

If we're in control of our lives, we can direct events and outcomes to be what we desire. We can make sure that the re-fi on our home goes through without a hitch. We can insure that we don't contract some crippling disease. We can certify that we'll live long, happy lives, free from sorrow or regret.

What's that? Nobody can do that, you say? There's always a dark cloud somewhere, ready to rain on our parade?

Why, sure. Perfect control is not possible. But if we can achieve this control more often than not, then we have control, right?

It seems like we teach our children how to exert control over their worlds as they grow up, only to let the rest of their lives teach them the opposite, that they control very little.

What's an appropriate reaction to this turn-about?

Some people wrap themselves in a cloak of denial. The world is their oyster, and they're going to get all the pearls they can carry. Bad things happen to other people, not to them. They're large and in charge.

And that may be the tenor of their lives. Maybe they never will encounter illness, death of a family member, job loss, natural disasters. Maybe they will seem to be blessed by the gods.

Outcomes are lumpy. By that I mean that some people lead trouble-free lives. Some people, in contrast, lead lives filled with pain and despair. The reason for this is a mystery, although that hasn't stopped a lot of people, many deeply religious, from seeing the hand of a judgmental deity at work in this.

There's an old cartoon I remember seeing years ago. It showed God sitting in front of his computer, looking at people on the earth below in the monitor. And his hand was poised over a large key marked "Smite."

Do you ever feel that way, that you're on God's "naughty list," and can't get a break? I'm not convinced that's the way it works.

Let's think about the other side of that coin, though. Let's look at the people who do have lives filled with good, who only occasionally have to go through a dark valley. They've done everything by the book, they've taken the right classes, they've been frugal with their money, they've been responsible citizens. By all logic, things should go well for them. They haven't squandered their talents, their wealth, or their time.

But occasionally, just every so often, something happens that up-ends the ship of their lives, and leaves them awash in an ocean of trouble. They can react like this - they can pray, they can re-group and review what they've done, they can take action if they find they overlooked something. If what happened to them truly came out of left field, then they'll come to realize that their control wasn't as complete as they thought, and that their best preparations weren't good enough.

Sometimes this sort of thing happens to nations, just as to people. We're going through another year of what's being called "The Great Recession." Job growth is stagnant, international relations are fragmented because of the general state of economies all around the world, and societies all over the globe are going through transitions. Old ways of doing things are under fire, and new ways are being proposed, but often, the new ways look strangely like some ancient ways that never did work well.

We've seen this phenomenon again and again in this century. Hurricane Katrina. The Indian Ocean tsunami. The economic meltdown and recession. Job loss. The drought of 2012. Political unrest at home, and the Arab Spring abroad. Al Qaeda. Bird flu.

Fear of the next shoe to drop is the order of the day.

And that's where I'm going to end this first installment of an examination of the real nature of control, and all that should spring from having it, and all that actually comes about because it is so limited. Come back tomorrow for the next set of ruminations.

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