Let’s take a different turn here – I would like to explore with you an elusive pursuit we often find ourselves and others struggling with. I’m sure many things spring to mind! In this instance, I’m thinking about the issue of control.
Have you noticed how often people are trying to control things in life? If I look at myself, I see someone who wants to control just about everything from the weather and traffic to how others interact with me to how the world behaves in general. I must tell you, it is quite a burden to look after everyone else’s behavior as I move through life. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if they just did it my way?
Have you ever noticed something similar inside yourself? Imagine that you have things pretty well worked out in terms of how you think things should go in life (not too hard to imagine for some of us!) And then imagine you met me – and I had things pretty well worked out about how things should go in life.
And then imagine that your version of how things should go and my version were at odds with one another. What happens next?
What am I talking about? Well, let me start with me. I have ways that I think other people should drive – polite, courteous, mindful of others on the road, and other kinds of innocent sound behaviors that most of us could subscribe to. I also have thoughts about using turn signals, what lane of traffic people should be in relative to their speed, and what an acceptable speed is for me to be driving. And some part of me wants everyone else to know my internal rules and to abide by them.
As I write this, I can remember any number of instances as a little boy, riding in the car with my mother. She had a whole set of rules which she managed to verbalize just about every time we went somewhere in the car. It sounded a bit like this: “Drive it or put a fence around it and call it home.” Or, “It’s the long, skinny pedal on the right.” Or, “It’s Monday, not Sunday” – we use to take “Sunday drives,” which were slow, “carefree,” excursions into the coastal areas of California – no hurry to get anywhere, just sightseeing, or, “seeing how the rich people live.” Or, “Where did you get your license – from a Cracker Jacks box?”
You can probably see a theme here: whenever these comments came out, someone else was not driving the way my mom wanted them to drive, certainly not at the correct speed for her way of doing things. I clearly adopted this line of thinking and to this day I can be pretty demanding of how others should drive, and especially so of the speed with which they do. I have both sides of the speed equation down well – some are too slow, and ought not be allowed out, and others are too fast, and should be pulled over and ticketed. Anyone who has driven with me can attest to the fact that I have the same kind of commentary available in my inner dialogue, which sometimes leaks out.
I’m not particularly proud of this aspect of myself, but thought I’d share a glimpse in hopes that some of you will be better able to identify your versions. Now the really goofy thing about all of this is that, just like my mom, I can say these things out loud, in the privacy of my car, as though the other drive could hear me. This is something my wife is fond of pointing out to me: “Honey, the only person who can hear you is me, and I’m not the one driving.”
Like I said, kind of goofy. It’s as though some part of me things that my commenting on what the other person is doing, they will somehow, magically perhaps, change their behavior and become more like I think they should be. Oh dear!
Knowing that I have this part of me running around loose, the part that tries to control others through the projection of my own thoughts and standards about how things should be done, I find that I need to be especially vigilant in terms of how I interact with others lest they start to feel anywhere from judged and criticized, to controlled and restricted.
Mindful of this tendency to criticize and control, I took a very conscious step in my developing relationship with Valerie, who later became my wife. I looked at her one day sitting across from me and reached out to a strand of hair that had fallen across her forehead. I moved that strand of hair off her forehead and then pronounced, “There.” Valerie asked me, “What do you mean, ‘there’?” I replied by saying, I have now changed the only thing I ever want to change about you.
I need to remind myself of that day every so often. I mean, here she is, all loving, wonderful, and full of life. Only, she leaves cupboard doors open, of all things; or puts the car keys in places where I don’t think they should go; or any number of other little things that are simply different from how I do things. Some part of me wants to control her behavior, to have her do “it” correctly.
So, what part of me is that? The part that likes to be in control. And why do I like to be in control? So I don’t have to change anything about the ways I do things, that’s why! And why is that? Because I’m comfortable doing things my way? And what does comfortable mean? Well, for the most part, I’m most comfortable when things are familiar, and the most familiar are things done my way. That way I don’t have to really interact or engage in any ways other than those I prefer.
Now isn’t that the way life “should” be? My way? Of course it should; unless, of course, it should be your way instead. And I suppose that makes perfect sense to you as well. Most of us want things our way.
So what’s that all about? Stay tuned.